The Confederate Flag and Your 2016 Pay Raise

How does a controversy over flying the Confederate flag impact the 2016 federal employee pay raise?

At first glance, there is no obvious connection between the Confederate flag and the 2016 federal pay raise. On the other hand, anyone who follows politics in a country as divided over political and social issues as the United States is today would not be too surprised.

Here is what is going on.

Republican leaders in the House have pulled the Interior and related agencies spending bill from the floor of the House. Democrats and some Republicans were concerned about a planned vote to allow Confederate flag images to be placed in cemeteries on federal land.

According to a report in Roll Call, the appropriations bill was already controversial. When Republican leaders agreed to a Confederate flag amendment vote to guarantee enough support from Republicans for passage of the bill, the divisive issue took center stage.

Politics being what it is in Washington, allowing the vote on the Confederate flag amendment created a predictable political uproar in Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) added to the controversy by proposing a resolution outlining some Civil War history and proposing to “remove any state flag containing the Confederate Battle flag” from the U.S. Capitol. Her proposed resolution may have had the desired effect by at least delaying any vote on the Interior and Environment appropriations bill.

Impact on Federal Pay Raise

As a result of the controversy over the Confederate flag, it is unlikely that any additional appropriations bills will make it through the House of Representatives until Republicans and Democrats work out their issues regarding display of the Confederate flag. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has advised Republicans that no more appropriations bills will be passed until the Confederate flag issue has been resolved. Asked if Speaker Boehner knew that Democrats were going to bring up a Confederate flag amendment on every appropriations bill, Congressman John Fleming (R-FL)  told reporters: “No, but he just knows Nancy Pelosi.”

It is the “additional appropriations bills” that could impact the federal pay raise. The House was scheduled to approve the financial services and general government legislative spending package. This is the way in which Congress typically sets federal pay policy.

Under the federal budget process (and the annual federal pay raise process), the fact that the budget did not address any 2016 pay raise means that a 1.3% annual raise is more likely (although not assured). This is because President Obama has proposed a 1.3% pay raise for federal employees to become effective in January 2016. And, if Congress does not ultimately approve a different figure, as happened in the past two years, the 1.3% proposed earlier this year will become a reality. (See How Much Will Your Pay Increase in 2016?)

Congress could approve a different amount than the 1.3% proposed by the president for 2016 but it is obviously stuck on other issues.  The 2016 Financial Services and General Government bill still in the House of Representatives is silent on a pay raise for federal employees in 2016. So far in 2016, this is similar to the scenario that has played out in the past two years which resulted in a 1% pay raise for most of the federal workforce when the president’s recommendation was ultimately implemented.

President Obama has until August 31st to announce his 2016 pay raise proposal for federal employees. If the president does not inform Congress of an alternative pay plan for by that date, the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA) would become effective. That would be good news for federal employees because, under FEPCA, the annual raise would be determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index less 0.5 percent. For the 2016 raise, that would be about 1.8 percent.

Congress is scheduled to be in recess during August. If there is not an agreement to fund agencies by September 30th, another shutdown is looming. The spending disagreements between Congress and the White House and the limited amount of time remaining means a continuing resolution is likely. Other possibilities include an agreement, such as occurred in 2015 when Congressman John Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) were instrumental in reaching an agreement on spending. (See Budget Agreement To Increase Pension Contributions for New Employees.)

So, the situation on the 2016 pay raise is complex and subject to change as Congress attempts to resolve their disagreements on the Confederate flag and ultimately, their spending disagreements with the White House which has threatened to veto spending bills unless modified to increase spending in the areas of concern to the administration.

While the 1.3% raise is likely, no one can predict with certainty what will emerge from the political process or what the final pay raise, if any, will be next January.

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