Can a 2019 Pay Raise Be Applied Retroactively?

Could Congress authorize a 2019 pay raise that would be applied retroactively?

Some FedSmith readers are wondering about the possibility of a retroactive pay raise for 2019. In other words, if the government shutdown continues and no annual pay raise for the federal workforce has been approved, can Congress pass legislation authorizing a retroactive pay raise? Has it ever been done before?

A retroactive pay raise has happened before. On January 23, 2004, a FedSmith article read:

The omnibus spending bill has been passed by the Senate. This bill contains a 4.1% pay raise for federal employees (for 2004). The raise will be retroactive to January 1st. Most federal employees received a portion of the raise as of January 1st. The bill now goes to President Bush for signature.

This is the second year that federal employees have received a pay raise of 4.1% and the second year in a row that the raise has been delayed and made retroactive to January 1st. Federal employees have received an annual pay raise of between 2-5% each year since 1987.

We do not know when the shutdown will end. If it ends after the new Congress is seated, a new appropriations bill will probably be passed by the House. As that chamber will be under control of Democrats, and Democrats are often eager to work with their federal employee union allies as they are usually supported by these organizations, new legislation may include a pay raise in the next appropriations bill.

If the Senate and President Trump go along with such a bill, there could still be a 2019 pay raise that would be applied retroactively. In the politics of the moment, a pay raise will not be that important to many in Congress. Depending on the amount of any money appropriated to build a wall along our southern border, the additional costs of a pay raise for the federal workforce may exceed the amount requested for the wall.

With the huge national debt that continues to grow but that Congress seems to ignore each year in approving spending bills, the financial cost of a pay raise and the cost of a wall to block illegal immigration are probably not as important as the political issues at play.

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