Pay Raise Likely to Hit in Early Spring

When can federal employees expect to see the 2019 pay raise, and what is causing the delay?

A 1.9% pay raise was approved as part of the recent budget agreement that will be retroactive to the start of 2019, but when will it actually show up in federal employees’ paychecks?

A congressional aide told Government Executive that the Office of Personnel Management is working on the new pay tables which will then get updated inside of agency payroll systems.

“Once [the pay tables] are published, agency payroll processors will replace existing pay tables in their systems, likely beginning with the current full pay period which began this week. The first paycheck with the raise will most likely go out during the first or third week of March,” the aide told Government Executive.

Federal employees are getting impatient and have been anxious for details. We have received many questions from our readers, and obviously, NTEU has also. The union’s national president, Tony Reardon, sent OPM a letter recently asking for an update on when the higher pay could be expected.

It’s Really Not Unprecedented

Despite the seemingly long delay, it actually should not come as a big surprise. The last time something similar happened to this year was with respect to the 2004 pay raise when Congress overrode the president’s proposed raise early in the year with a larger one (4.1%). That was quite a jump because President Bush had authorized a 2% raise for 2004. Debate over the raise had been going on since the fall of 2003, and a FedSmith article said at the time that federal employees shouldn’t spend the money too quickly as the larger raise was not a guarantee.

Turns out that advice was prescient. The spending bill containing the 4.1% raise was signed into law on January 23, 2004. However, the executive order implementing the raise was not signed by President Bush until March 3, 2004, 40 days later.

The executive order contains the new pay tables, so those have to be fully computed by OPM before the White House publishes the order which adds to the delay.

Assuming what the congressional aide told Government Executive proves to be true, federal employees would be lucky to get the raise in their checks next month based on the 2004 situation.

A separate report from Federal News Network said that it could be early April before the increased paychecks arrive.

A spokesperson for Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL), the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, told Federal News Network that the updated pay tables are sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review and clearance which is yet another hurdle to clear in the bureaucracy on the route to feds’ pocketbooks.

Further Complications

An analysis from Fedweek noted that the fact that the pay raise is retroactive will also likely complicate the process and, consequently, add to the delay in getting the new raise enacted. With respect to the process in 2004, Fedweek noted:

For example, agencies had to review each employee’s work schedule and make any necessary pay adjustments to reflect the new pay rates for overtime, night, Sunday, and holiday pay the employee worked. A similar adjustment must be made for those who retired or otherwise separated from the government around the turn of the year, since the lump-sum payment of unused annual leave is calculated as if the person had continued working for that many days.

That information is passed on to the payroll providers that agencies use. In many cases in 2003 and 2004 the back pay was paid separately as of a certain date and the new salary rate took effect with the next regular pay distribution. But that process, too, took time—in both cases, generally several pay periods later but some of the payments were not made until about three months after the law was signed.

Bottom Line

With February about to draw to a close, it is all but certain that it will at least be in March before the pay raise shows up in your paycheck, and it’s likely to be at least the latter part of March given past precedent and the innate complications that come with coordinating payroll among so many federal agencies. But rest assured, the raise will eventually get to you.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.