President Asks Federal Employees to Sacrifice in 2010: Proposes 2% Pay Raise

How much will your pay raise be in 2010? President Obama has proposed 2% for civilians to bring federal pay and benefit practices “more in line with the private sector.”

Federal employees have been receiving pretty good annual pay raises in recent years. For example, the average federal employee received a pay raise of 3.9% in 2009. Federal employees received an average pay increase of 3.5% in 2008, 2.7% in 2007 and 3.1% in 2006 and 4.1% back in 2004.

But what about in 2010?

President Obama’s proposed budget has a recommended increase of 2% for the annual federal employee pay raise and 2.9% for the military. The House of Representatives has voted not to award itself a pay raise in 2010 although they did just receive a 2.7% increase for the current year which works out to about $4,700.

Obama’s budget message states: “As families are tightening their belts in this economic crisis across the country, the President ordered a freeze of White House senior staff pay. In this Budget, Federal employees also will be asked to do their part: the 2010 pay increase for Federal civilian employees, 2.0 percent, is responsive to the current economic climate, bringing Federal pay and benefit practices more in line with the private sector.”

A 2% pay raise actually is not a bad raise when the nationwide unemployment rate is predicted to get as high as 10%. It isn’t clear from the budget summary if 2% would be the average pay increase but the wording of the budget summary implies the 2% would be the average–comparable to last year’s average raise of 3.9%.

Federal employee unions are supporting the President’s action. AFGE’s National President commented: “”Although federal employees would prefer to have seen an increase in pay, the equivalent to the military, we recognize the severity of our nation’s economic situation, including the crisis for public workers at the state and local level, and understand that only modest steps can be taken this year to close the remaining pay gap between the federal and non-federal salaries.”

NTEU’s president stated that the union will seek discussions with the administration on the proposed federal pay raise and expressed disappointment that the budget does not reflect the long-standing tradition of parity in pay raises for federal civilian employees and members of the military.

The differential between the proposed pay raise for the military and civilians is likely to cause controversy. President Bush also proposed paying the military more than civilians (See Patriotism, Pay and Parity). Federal employee unions have been strong supporters of pay parity in the past, in large part because there is a tendence in Congress to provide larger pay increases to military personnel, especially during a time when some of our troops are engaged in combat.

No doubt, some readers will be surprised that a Democratic president who had the strong support of federal employee unions would be proposing a smaller pay raise than those under President Bush.

But, for those who have followed politics and the federal government more closely, it should not be a surprise. In Federal Pay Raise Issues May Be Political, But They Are Not Partisan, President Clinton often proposed smaller pay raise for the federal workforce than those supported by Congress.

And, as author Bob Gilson noted in a recent article, political support does not always lead to the actions that some expect. “One of the criticisms of Federal unions during the Clinton administration was that their leadership got wined and dined at the White House while hundreds of thousands of Federal employee defense jobs were lost to contracting. This Nero and Rome analogy isn’t mine but was widely discussed within the labor relations community as the 90s drew to a close.”

President Obama’s proposal in your 2010 pay raise is not the final decision. Congress will still get involved, as it did with President Clinton, and the raise may end up–in fact are likely to end up–being the same as for mililtary personnel. But, if any readers missed the object lesson for federal employees in the 1990’s,  remember that political support for a candidate does not always yield predictable results.

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