1.8% Pay Raise for Military? What About Civilians?

It wasn’t too long ago that federal employee unions were arguing for “pay parity” between military and civilian personnel. That argument worked for awhile but the trend was broken several years ago.

Uniformed members of the military were given a 1.6% pay increase in 2012 with an executive order issued by President Obama. Civilian federal employees did not receive a pay raise from 2010 until 2014. Military personnel received an across-the-board pay raise of 1.7% in 2013 and a 1% pay raise in 2014.

President Obama proposed a 1% pay increase for federal employees in 2015 in the administration’s budget proposal. He has also requested a 1% pay raise for military personnel in 2015. Legislation has been introduced to provide federal employees with a 3.3% pay raise but the chances of that passing are low and largely attributed to Congressman in the DC metropolitan area seeking favor with voters during an election year. A survey of readers earlier this year showed that most taking the survey thought a raise of 4% was fair.

In his 2014 budget proposal, President Obama proposed a 1% pay raise and that is what was eventually implemented. In the absence of action by Congress, the president has authority to raise federal employee pay based on the Employment Cost Index and he may have that option again in 2015. (See Will Feds Get a Pay Raise in 2014?)

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on legislation that effectively approves a 1.8 percent pay raise for military personnel for 2015. As usual, the pay raise scenario and the method of arriving at a final figure is complicated and with numerous possible diversions and options.

In this case, while the president has proposed a 1% pay raise for military personnel, the 1.8 percent pay raise for the military could happen automatically. If the legislation passed by Congress is silent on the issue of a pay raise for the military, the automatic 1.8% raise would go into effect next year based on the employment cost index and the growth in private-sector wages.

The president has authority to cite a national emergency or fiscal concerns for a different amount of pay if Congress does not adjust the amount or  cancel the pay raise through legislative action.

The same applies to civilian federal employees as well as to military and that is exactly what happened to the federal pay scenario in 2014. The president proposed a raise of 1%; Congress did not pass legislation to adjust the amount and the 1% raise went into effect in January 2014. (See Pay Freeze Ends: Federal Employees to Get 1% Raise in 2014)

The 2014 pay increase was the first across-the-board pay raise for federal employees since federal employees received a 2% increase in January 2010. Federal employees under the General Schedule were still able to receive payments such as bonuses, overtime, within-grade increases and promotion pay raises despite the pay freeze.

With massive budget deficits continuing each year, the chances of a significantly larger pay raise for military or civilian personnel in 2015 are not high. While it is possible that the 1.8% raise could occur for either or both military and civilians in 2015, cuts for some military benefits, such as cuts or smaller increases in subsidies received by commissaries or closing many commissaries or the basic housing allowance for American troops, are also possible for 2015.

2014 is an election year and the pay raise question for 2015 is largely a political decision. With a very slow economic recovery, high unemployment, an unpopular federal government, and a perception among some that federal employees are paid more than those in the private sector doing similar jobs, providing a higher pay raise for federal employees is a tough sell for those in Congress running for re-election. The reality is that it is easier to convince Congress to pass a higher pay raise for military personnel while there is still a war (or armed conflict, or other softer terms for a war) going on overseas. If there is a differential between military and civilian pay again in 2015, this is likely to be the rationale for the difference.

Earlier this year, readers indicated they anticipated an overall pay raise of about 1% for 2015. That survey may turn out to be accurate.

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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