1.9% Retroactive Pay Raise Now Likely

A raise of 1.9% appears more likely than seemed possible a few weeks ago. Here is the latest.


President Trump signed the bill into law preventing another partial government shutdown and authorizing a pay raise for 2019. For details, see our updated article on the pay raise: It’s Official: Federal Employees Are Getting a Raise in 2019.

In the topsy-turvy world of determining a federal employee pay raise, the process and the outcome are unpredictable during a normal year. The process for determining the pay raise in 2019 is not a normal year.

But, for federal employees, the unusual scenario may have become more advantageous this year.

President Trump proposed a pay freeze this year which ultimately went into effect. In most years, that would be the final result. In fact, he issued an Executive Order in December formalizing what he had proposed earlier.

1.9% Raise Now Appears Likely

A mid-term election, a partial government shutdown that set records for how long it lasted, political dysfunction and a polarized electorate have all come together in Congress with the likely result of a 1.9% average pay raise for federal employees this year.

The House and Senate have now reached a political agreement for an average raise of 1.9%. The federal pay raise is a small and probably insignificant portion of this spending bill but certainly important to many federal employees.  For any raise to become effective, the bill will still have to be signed by the president and the White House has indicated he will do so.

And, to the relief of many, the bill result is avoiding another partial government shutdown if it is signed into law.

Retroactive Pay Raise

The bill currently states that the pay raise  “…shall be effective as of the first day of the first applicable pay period beginning on or after January 1, 2019.” In effect, the pay raise will be retroactive.

Locality Pay and Its Impact on Salaries

Note that the average will be 1.9%. That has happened in the past and what it means is that there is an across the board increase of 1.4% with an additional amount for locality pay adjustments. In 2017, for example, there was an across-the-board increase of 1%. Federal employees in San Francisco received 1.32% and those in the Washington, DC area received a raise of 1.26%.

In 2018, there was an average pay raise of 1.9%. Employees in the Washington, DC area received a pay raise of 2.29%. The “Rest of the U.S.” category received a raise of 1.67%. Assuming the legislation just approved by the Senate is approved by the House and signed by the president, there will be similar disparities in 2019.

There is also discussion in Congress for legislation providing back pay to federal contractors related to the 35-day shutdown. Predictably, this proposal is supported by lawmakers from the Washington area. It appears less likely to be passed than the pay raise for federal employees.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) provided an update on Twitter about the status of the bill and noted it doesn’t include back pay for federal contractors:

The bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on Friday afternoon.

Why 1.9%?

Late in 2018, the Senate included language in a bill that would have provided a 1.9% pay raise for federal employees. That was not approved by the House.

No final appropriations bill was approved in Congress. After the mid-term elections, the House passed a bill that would have provided a raise of 2.6%—based in part on providing civilian employees the same percentage increase as military personnel.

Numerous reports now indicate the Senate is going back to the 1.9% it had approved earlier.

Will President Trump Sign the Bill?

It is unknown if President Trump will sign a bill to end the political stalemate. Reports indicate there will be some funding for a border wall but with less funding than he has been seeking. It appears likely the bill will be signed, depending on what the final bill contains. President Trump has commented he may use other sources of funding to build a more complete border wall to ensure greater national security for our southern border.

It is likely a decision on this will be made very quickly. Check back for updates on this fast-moving, complex process of determining funding for a few agencies and the final pay raise for the federal workforce.

Update: The White House confirmed today that President Trump will sign the bill that prevents a shutdown and will also declare a national emergency to build the border wall.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:

President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border. The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.

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