With the dawn of a new year now upon us, what happened in 2018 that was of the most interest to or impact on federal employees?
Here is a list of these events, obviously based on personal observations and reader reaction to articles throughout 2018.
Shutdowns happened several times in 2018. The current shutdown is expected to last into 2019. It is based on a political battle between Democrats in Congress and President Trump on partial funding for a wall along America’s southern border. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.
The first shutdown was in January. It lasted for three days largely as a result of questions regarding the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
In February, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) effectively shut down the government by himself. The second shutdown was only for a few hours overnight. Senator Paul was standing against a deal negotiated by congressional leaders that would break open the government budget caps on domestic and military spending in place since 2013.
Who Invented Government Shutdowns?
It is hard to imagine with all the current wringing of hands and arm waving that federal government shutdowns did not occur until 1980.
Prior to that, when America was generally a more civil society, when money had not been appropriated, government employees still went to work, still got paid (usually a little late until funds were approved) and the situation was resolved without the political drama and politicians parading in front of the cameras.
The legal basis for the newly discovered legal requirement was based on an 1870 law—the Antideficiency Act of 1870. President Carter’s Attorney General, Benjamin Civiletti, concluded we were operating outside the law until he revealed the true meaning of the law within the 1870 statute that escaped the attention of our legal experts for more than a century.
2019 Pay Raise
One topic that always interests federal employees is how much of an annual raise will they receive, if any, in the coming year.
President Trump advocated a pay freeze in 2019—at least a freeze on an overall pay raise for federal employees. For a while, it appeared Congress would overturn the pay freeze recommendation. But Congress did not pass an appropriations bill with the pay freeze embedded in it. On December 28, President Trump issued an Executive Order freezing pay in 2019.
We can anticipate some in Congress, particularly in the House which will be controlled by Democrats starting in January, will push for a retroactive pay raise in a new appropriations bill. While the House may pass such a bill, it is not certain the Senate will accept a pay raise or if President Trump will sign it.
For now, it appears there will not be a pay raise. That could change early in 2019.
Federal retirees and Social Security recipients will receive their largest cost of living adjustment in seven years (2.8%) starting in January.
Executive Orders Targeting Unions and Disciplinary Actions
In May, President Trump issued three Executive Orders that sent federal employees running to their lawyers and into court. It is easy to see why: the new approach to labor relations would restrict union finances and influence within federal agencies.
In an initial decision, a District Court judge largely agreed with the unions that the new and a tougher approach in dealing with unions was not legal. Sometime in the next year, we may find out the final answer as the case is now on appeal.
Reduction in Employee Benefits
While there has not actually been a reduction in employee benefits, including changes in federal employee retirement, the possibility of changes in these areas causes concern among the federal workforce. The strong possibility of a pay freeze in 2019 is related to this issue though.
No Quorum at MSPB
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is not issuing new decisions. There have not been enough Board members to issue decisions since January 2017. There are now probably close to 2000 cases sitting awaiting a decision and the prospects for having a quorum anytime in the near future is negligible.
Without fanfare or a press release, this has changed the landscape for the federal human resources program with regard to handling petitions for review which involve issues such as firing a federal employee or the more serious disciplinary actions.
While no one knows the future of the agency, at a minimum there will eventually be a flood of decisions coming from the MSPB. Related issues will soon result ranging from questions on back pay to potential changes in philosophy with new cases coming out that will impact federal agencies.
In effect, the agency has ceased to exist, in practice if not on paper. Some in Congress may question whether the agency or current system of appeals is needed within the federal government.
These are some significant events for federal employees and based on reactions we saw from FedSmith readers. What is your opinion of the significance of these events? Are there others that took place during the year you feel were significant for the federal workforce? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.
On a personal level, 2018 was not a banner year for many federal employees, although most of the scary fears about changes to benefits did not materialize. Shutdowns are not good for the federal community and these events certainly inconvenience many private citizens as well.
With a divided Congress starting in January, it is likely most proposals for changing the government will not be going anywhere. We are likely to have few substantive legislative changes for the next two years. Some will think the lack of movement or change is good for the country while the politicians and their political parties will cite it as a reason to consolidate power in the hands of one party.
Enjoy the ride.