2020 Raise: How We Got to 3.1%

The House and Senate have passed legislation to avoid a government shutdown and enact a 3.1% annual pay raise in 2020.

Federal employees under the General Schedule (GS) will get an average raise of 3.1% starting in January 2020. As usual, the road to this end has been unpredictable and filled with bumps and potholes.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown

The House and Senate have passed a bill to fund the government (and to provide a 3.1% raise) and sent it to President Trump for signature. The president has signed the bill into law, thereby avoiding another government shutdown that would have gone into effect this weekend.

Here is how we ended up with a 3.1% average federal pay raise for 2020 (which won’t be final in any event until President Trump issues an Executive Order on the raise later this month).

How We Got to This Point

bipartisan spending deal emerged in Congress in December and this legislation determined the final raise amount for next year. 3.1% is the percentage of the raise for military personnel in 2020 but that amount was not a certainty for federal employees. The spending bill reportedly includes a 2.6% increase and an additional 0.5% to go toward locality pay increases.

President Trump’s proposed budget for 2020 was for a pay freeze for the federal workforce. President Trump had also requested a pay freeze in 2019. That was eventually overturned by Congress though and an average retroactive pay raise of 1.9% was eventually implemented, overriding the president’s recommendation. The overall pay raise for 2019 was for 1.4% with an additional average of 0.5% for locality pay.

But in August, President Trump recommended a 2.6% pay raise for the federal government’s General Schedule employees effective in January 2020.

Under this proposal, locality pay rates would have remained at the same level as 2019 though, an unpleasant surprise to the large number of federal employees in locality pay areas.

A locality pay freeze would also have had a larger impact on federal workers in places such as the Washington, DC metropolitan area and San Francisco where the locality pay raises are often the highest in the country for federal workers.

In June, prior to the 2.6% proposal from President Trump, the House passed a bill authorizing a 3.1% pay raise in 2020. The authorization was for a 2.6% base pay increase along with an additional 0.5% increase in locality pay.

In February, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation to raise federal employee pay by 3.6%.

This is something of an annual tradition. The two lawmakers have teamed before to advocate for a higher pay raise for federal workers beyond what often ends up materializing from Congress and/or the White House. In 2018, for example, the duo’s legislative proposal sought a 3% pay raise in 2019. The year before, they wanted 3.2%, and in 2017, they wanted 5.3%.

Waiting for Final Action

As most federal employees know, even after the legislation sent to the president has been signed by President Trump, the final pay raise does not become final until an Executive Order is issued. That Order is usually accompanied by information from OPM regarding the pending pay raise, such as the locality pay rates for the coming year.

So, despite all of the activity to this point, there is still one more hurdle to cross before the figure is final.

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