2.9% or 3.4% in 2009? Here Are Our Predictions

The yearly process of determining the annual federal pay raise has begun. Here are our predictions on the outcome of the process for the 2009 federal pay raise.

Writing about the annual federal pay raise for 2009 has a familiar ring. The actual dates vary but the dance is similar.

On January 18, 2007, we published a column entitled Dancing and Playing to the Crowd: Predictions for Your 2007 Pay Raise and made a few predictions about the 2008 federal pay raise. The article stated: “In all likelihood, federal employees will get a raise in 2007; the raise will probably be less than 3.1%; the raise will probably not match the rate of inflation we will experience in 2007; there will be the usual threats and recriminations and many news stories on the issue; the final result will not be known until December 2007.”

As we now know, the actual average federal pay raise for 2008 turned out to be 3.5%.

So, here we go again. And the usual players are playing their roles.

The President has issued his budget proposal for 2009. The pay raise projected for federal employees in the fiscal year 2009 budget: 2.9%. The pay raise projected for the military in the fiscal year 2009 budget: 3.4%.

And, since the amounts for the two groups are different, it must be time for Steny Hoyer to give a statement to the Washington Post on how unfair the President’s proposal is to federal employees. In fact, the Post had his statement in time to get it in today’s edition as Steve Barr’s column includes this comment from the Maryland Congressman: “The proposed 2.9 percent is simply insufficient to ensure that civilian employees receive a fair base increase in 2009 as well as additional adjustments — where necessary — to reflect their employment in expensive regions of the United States.” He does not mention that the average federal employee in the Washington, DC metropolitan area is now making more than $90,000 a year. Presumably, the 2009 pay raise will take the DC average closer to the magical $100,000 figure.

It must also be time for federal employee unions to castigate the President for not appreciating the work of federal employees and that the proposal will lead to a massive outflow of federal employees leaving for the greener fields of the private sector where employees make large amounts of money and have better benefits. Right on schedule, these press releases are out and being distributed throughout the federal employee local unions.

The pay raise process is largely a political charade that is fairly predictable – up to a point. The November elections could make a difference in the annual pay raise that is given to federal employees. As the mood of the voters is reflected in the election results, there could be a larger pay increase for federal employees – or it could be held down because of the massive flow of red ink drenching the federal budget for 2009. World events could also play a big role. We don’t know what challenges the military will face in Iraq and Afghanistan or how many military personnel may be killed in combat operations during the next few months. These events could also make a difference.

We do know that the Congressmen with a large number of federal employees in their districts and federal employee unions will be seeking to ride the coattails of the public’s support of the military by arguing that federal employees deserve pay parity with military personnel. In all likelihood, they will experience some success in these efforts.

But, going out on a limb, here are a couple of predictions about your pay for the 2009 calendar year. The average federal employee pay increase in 2009 will probably be 3.4%. The final pay raise figure for the federal workforce will be approved in December 2008. The average federal employee salary in the Washington, DC area in 2009 will be about $96,000. The Cato Institute will publish government statistics showing that federal employees are increasing their pay and benefits faster than those in the private sector and that the average federal compensation package is more than double that of the average American taxpayer. Federal employee unions will bemoan the unfair federal pay rates as being way behind private sector pay rates. And, perhaps most significantly, about 96% of Congressmen running for re-election will be sent back to Washington as a result of the elections in November.

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. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47