Federal Employees News Digest

WH proposes 2.7% pay increase for feds

Good news for feds: The Biden administration is proposing a 2.7% increase in base pay next year—if effected, the largest annual bump in over a decade.

The figure, found in the Office of Management and Budget blueprint for spending next year, released just before the Memorial Day weekend, provides parity with the planned pay hike for military servicemembers—and bolsters the administration’s declared commitment to easing lower-paid feds up to a higher minimum wage standard.

“To help departments and agencies recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive Federal workforce, the Budget ensures more Federal employees are eligible for a $15 per hour wage,” the budget release states, “and provides funding for a pay increase averaging 2.7% across the federal civilian workforce, in parity with the military pay increase.”

Federal pay hikes are widely anticipated—but not always enacted—each year. For example, there was no pay hike for the years 2011, 2012 or 2013, consistent with a political wave in Congress at the time against pay raises and for pay freezes. In any case, when increases do occur—as happens most years—they are modest and designed to act as cost-of-living increases, or COLAs. For 2021, the increase was 1%.

In this respect, a dedicated body, the Federal Salary Council, does independent research and makes a base pay raise recommendation, based in part on a measure of nationwide price inflation. The FSC then adds to that base pay increase a higher pay bump in the form of locality pay, wherever appropriate.

A White House raise proposal, if it differs from the FSC numbers is known as the “alternate pay plan.” In the end, Congress can vote for the FSC’s number, the president’s number (normally specified in the White House budget proposal) or its own number regarding federal employee raises. However, if Congress fails to pass legislation specifying a pay raise—or no raise at all—under the law, the president’s “alternate” raise proposal takes effect.

At present, a group of Democrats in Congress have proposed an even higher base pay increase—3.2%.

Some federal employee organizations and unions have expressed their relief that the president’s plan offers a 2.7% raise at a minimum, but meanwhile are pushing for the Democrats’ plan for a greater boost. For example, the American Federation of Government Employees is emphasizing the goal of getting to 3.2%—reiterating research that finds feds are chronically undercompensated. 

“On average, federal workers are underpaid by 23% compared to those doing the same jobs in the private sector and state and local government,” AFGE stated recently, citing a FSC study released in 2020. “We’re asking the administration and Congress to support the modest 3.2% increase included in the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act, which was introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this year.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), one of the sponsors of that legislation, has explained the need for the higher wage hike, in a release: “With the exception of 2020, Congress has failed for a decade to enact an increase to basic pay for federal employees that corresponds to the amount outlined by statute (5 U.S. Code § 5303). Meanwhile, during the last 10 years, federal employees have had to endure government shutdowns, pay freezes, hiring freezes, and lost pay as a result of sequestration-related furloughs.” 

“Federal employees have been scapegoated for four long years,” Connolly said. “They've worked tirelessly throughout a global pandemic, risking their lives in service to the American people. And how has the [previous administration] thanked them? With cruel personal attacks, unsafe work environments, pay freezes, government shutdowns, sequestration cuts, furloughs, and a mindless across-the-board hiring freeze.”

The White House budget plan’s language, like that of unions and congressional advocates, conveys an urgency built on reversing cost-cutting at employee expense in recent years.

“The administration is committed to respecting and partnering with career civil servants who form the backbone of the federal government,” so declares the White House budget plan.

2021 Digital Almanac

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