Trump or­ders pay freeze for fed­eral work­ers in 2019

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Local - BY ERIC YODER

Pres­i­dent Don­ald

Trump is­sued an or­der Fri­day to freeze fed­eral em­ployee salary rates at cur­rent lev­els in 2019, although a chance re­mains that em­ploy­ees will still re­ceive a raise.

Trump’s or­der was ex­pected since he has ad­vo­cated a freeze all year. It how­ever was ne­c­es­sary un­der the com­plex law gov­ern­ing fed­eral pay to pre­vent a large raise from tak­ing ef­fect by de­fault, due to Congress not mak­ing a de­ci­sion re­gard­ing a raise.

The or­der comes as some 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees, out of a work­force of 2.1 mil­lion, are in un­paid sta­tus due to the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down that now has lasted a week and is vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed to last at least a num­ber of days more. Of those, about 380,000 have been fur­loughed while the rest are still on the job, although without pay, due to the na­ture of their work.

“This is just pour­ing salt into the wound,” Na­tional Trea­sury Em­ploy­ees Union pres­i­dent Tony Rear­don said in a state­ment. “It is shock­ing that fed­eral em­ploy­ees are tak­ing yet an­other fi­nan­cial hit. As if missed pay­checks and work­ing without pay were not enough, now they have been told that they don’t even de­serve a mod­est pay in­crease.”

Trump’s or­der only ap­plies to civil­ian work­ers. Mil­i­tary per­son­nel, which are cov­ered un­der a sep­a­rate fund­ing mea­sure, will re­ceive a 2.6 per­cent raise.

The or­der is the lat­est in a long se­ries of back and forth de­vel­op­ments re­gard­ing a raise. Af­ter Trump’s orig­i­nal pro­posal for a freeze in an ear­lyyear bud­get plan, the House passed a mea­sure that in ef­fect con­sented, by mak­ing no men­tion of a raise. But the Se­nate then passed a coun­ter­part fa­vor­ing an av­er­age 1.9 per­cent in­crease, with some vari­a­tion by lo­cal­ity.

Trump fol­lowed with a let­ter to Congress stat­ing his in­ten­tion to im­pose a freeze if leg­is­la­tors did not act by the end of the cal­en­dar year. For a time it ap­peared that the House would agree to the Se­nate’s pro­posed raise, but the two cham­bers never pro­duced a bill re­solv­ing the is­sue.

Trump’s or­der is not nec­es­sar­ily the fi­nal word, how­ever. Even be­fore the par­tial shut­down hit, one of the main Se­nate ad­vo­cates for a pay raise, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., had raised the prospect of at­tempt­ing to pass a raise early in the new Congress that con­venes Jan. 3, say­ing that “it should be the first or­der of busi­ness when we re­turn.”

Fed­eral em­ployee pay raises are ef­fec­tive with the start of the first full bi­weekly pay pe­riod of a year, which in this case will start Jan. 6, leav­ing lit­tle time for en­act­ment of a raise by then. How­ever, raises have been paid retroac­tively – most re­cently in both 2003 and 2004 when fi­nal agency fund­ing sim­i­larly hadn’t been re­solved un­til past the start of the new year. In both cases, a raise had been paid by de­fault in early Jan­uary but was over­rid­den by a larger one con­tained in a later ful­lyear ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill.

The Se­nate ini­tially ap­proved a 1.9 per­cent raise for 2019 on a strong bi­par­ti­san vote although it re­jected a bid by Van Hollen and oth­ers to in­clude it in a mea­sure to tem­po­rar­ily con­tinue fund­ing for agen­cies whose reg­u­lar bud­gets have not been en­acted.

With Democrats set to take con­trol of the House on Jan. 3, the House is con­sid­ered more likely to back a raise than it had been un­der Repub­li­can con­trol. How­ever, the pres­i­dent would have to sign any mea­sure con­tain­ing a raise for one to take ef­fect.

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees have re­ceived an­nual raises in the 1- to 2-per­cent range since a freeze over 2011 to 2013. Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment guid­ance on the new or­der says that em­ploy­ees would re­main el­i­gi­ble in 2019, as they were in those years, for raises on pro­mo­tion or on ad­vanc­ing up the steps of a pay grade.

Un­der the Gen­eral Sched­ule, the main pay sys­tem for white-col­lar em­ploy­ees be­low the ex­ec­u­tive level, em­ploy­ees move up a step ev­ery one, two or three years un­til hit­ting the top of a pay grade, where such in­creases stop. Em­ploy­ees also can be ad­vanced faster than nor­mal as a per­for­mance re­ward. Those “within-grade” raises are worth about 3 per­cent of salary.

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