The White House proposed a 2.6 percent pay increase for the Federal civilian workforce on August 30, to take effect at the beginning of the 2020 calendar year.

President Trump’s endorsement of a 2020 pay increase for the Federal civilian workforce marks a sharp turnaround from the White House’s FY2020 budget proposal unveiled in March that proposed to freeze Federal civilian pay for FY2020, while giving members of the military a 3.1 percent FY 2020 pay hike.

Underlying the White House’s proposal is the aim to head off the possibility of a much larger increase in 2020 in Federal workforce “locality” pay that differs depending on where Federal workers are based.

In an August 30 letter to top House and Senate leadership, President Trump offered “an alternative plan for pay adjustments for civilian Federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems in January 2020.”

According to the White House letter, current law dictates that a 2.6 percent across-the-board increase for the base General Schedule is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, plus a 24 percent average increase in “locality pay.”

According to numerous press reports, those increases are set to kick in by default if Congress does not agree to a Federal workforce pay raise by the end of 2019. According to those reports, President Trump’s August 30 letter endorsement of an “alternative plan” for the 2.6 percent across-the-board increase would forestall the automatic increases in locality pay.

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course,” the President said in the letter. “Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such massive increases in locality pay. Accordingly I have determined that it is appropriate to exercise by authority to set alternative local pay adjustments for 2020,” the letter states.

“Specifically, I have determined that for 2020 – while across-the-board base pay will increase by 2.6 percent … the locality pay percentages … will remain at their 2019 levels,” the letter states. “This alternative pay plan decision will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce,” the President said.

He continued, “As noted in my Budget for Fiscal Year 2020, our pay system must reform to align with mission-critical recruitment and retention goals, and to reward employees whose performance provides value for the American people. My Administration will continue to support reforms that advance these aims.”

In late June, the House approved a broader spending bill that includes an approximate 3.1 percent Federal civilian workforce pay raise, including a 2.6 percent base increase and a 0.5 percent increase in locality pay. That bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.