Congress and the 2019 Federal Employee Pay Raise

The House and Senate appear to be going in different directions on a federal employee pay raise in 2019. Here is an update.

The House of Representatives has passed two 2019 appropriations bills. This effectively is the halfway point in an attempt to pass the 12 annual spending bills needed to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year.

Of immediate interest to many federal employees, the spending package in the House does not include mention of a pay raise for the federal workforce.

Here is why this is important for any federal pay raise for 2019.

Role of President and Congress on Pay Raise

Federal pay rates automatically go up each year by a certain percentage under a formula established by the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FECA) unless Congress or the president take action to implement an alternative plan. But, as most federal employees know, the FECA pay raise percentages are virtually irrelevant. Congress or the president can take action to implement a different plan and they always ignore FECA and exercise that authority.

In some years, appropriations bills in Congress have determined the amount of any pay raise. In recent years, Congress has left the decision on a pay raise up to the president. This decision has included a decision not to have any federal pay raise including one stretch of a pay freeze extending from 2011-2013.

What About the Proposed Pay Freeze?

It is not clear what will happen with regard to a 2019 pay raise, if there is to be any raise. President Trump has proposed a pay freeze for next year. With the latest action in the House, we can conclude that the House would again leave the final decision up to the president. And, since the president has not proposed any pay raise for 2019, that would most likely lead to no federal pay raise in 2019.

But, of course, the situation is not that simple.

Senate Committee Approves 1.9% Pay Raise

Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee Senate approved a 1.9 percent pay raise for the 2019 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. The full Senate has not yet passed its versions of the appropriations bills. The Senate is likely to tackle this issue next week.

In effect, the Senate and the House appropriations actions are, so far, in conflict. The Senate is on track to provide for a pay raise in 2019 and the House action does not provide for a pay raise.

It remains to be seen what the final Senate bill will contain. If, as is likely, the Senate bill provides for a pay raise and the House bill does not, the issue will be resolved through a conference committee. While that means the outcome is unpredictable, for federal employees the odds have gone up that there will be a raise in 2019.

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