Biggest Events for Federal Employees in 2021

A vaccine mandate, a big COLA, and more telework: these are some of the biggest events for federal employees in 2021.

Happy New Year to all of our readers from FedSmith!

This is the time of year when I like to reflect on events from the year and their impact on the federal community.

I’ve highlighted what I felt were some of the biggest events of 2021 for federal employees below, but first, I wanted to say thank you to all of you who read my articles and the FedSmith site each day. I enjoy the opportunity to work with our authors to provide important news for federal employees all over the world, but it would not be possible without our readers, so thanks to all of you for continuing to give us the opportunity to provide this service.

FedSmith would not be possible without our authors who take the time to share their knowledge and expertise with the federal community. Thanks to them, you are able to read a wide variety of articles on important topics such as pay and benefits, retirement or labor relations. If you ever come across an article that you find particularly useful, please consider taking a moment to let the author know that it was helpful to you.

Highlights of 2021 for Federal Employees

These are what I considered to be some of the biggest events for the federal workforce in 2021.

What do you think were some of the most important events this year for federal employees or retirees? Feel free to discuss these or others in the comments.

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

Without a doubt, this was one of the most significant events for the federal workforce in 2021.

Three vaccines saw widespread use this year to combat the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration went from encouraging their use to requiring it for federal employees, and it was met with strong opinions on both sides.

Initially, federal employees had until November 22, 2021 to get fully vaccinated, but then the administration announced it was delaying full enforcement of more harsh penalties for not getting vaccinated until after the first of the year.

The White House also released data earlier this month indicating that over 92% of federal employees had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

2.7% Pay Raise in 2022

The process for arriving at a pay raise for 2022 went through its usual twists and turns as the political process unfolded throughout the year.

President Biden proposed a 2.7% pay raise back in May, and that is ultimately what federal employees will get next year per the Executive Order issued last week. (To see how the 2022 federal pay raise will be applied for each of the locality areas, see Using the Locality Pay System to Your Financial Advantage).

One thing that is different this year is that the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution until February, so it is theoretically possible that Congress might alter the pay raise amount in some way if or when it passes final appropriations legislation, but this seems less likely now that the president has issued the December Executive Order.

Largest COLA in 40 Years

Inflation has risen steadily throughout 2021 which has driven up prices on everything from cars to milk, but perhaps some good news to come from that is that federal retirees will get the largest cost of living adjustment (COLA) in their monthly annuity payments since the early 1980s in 2022. Next year’s COLA will be 5.9% and will show up in eligible retirees’ checks in January.

Federal Employees Got a New Paid Holiday

Over the summer, Congress passed legislation that created a new federal holiday: Juneteenth. It was passed and signed into law just before the actual holiday, and the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance in time to give federal employees the holiday pay.

With the passage of the new Juneteenth holiday, federal employees now have 11 paid holidays each year, and there are some years when there are 12 with Inauguration Day for DC area federal employees. There also are some occasional unexpected extra holidays, one of the most common being when a president gives an extra day off around Christmas.

More Federal Employees are TSP Millionaires Than Ever Before

The bull market in stocks has continued to roar in 2021, and federal employees who are invested for the long haul are reaping the benefits.

The last TSP millionaires report shows that there were 98,523 federal employees who had at least $1 million or more in their TSP accounts as of the end of the third quarter in 2021. Odds are this number will be even higher when the new data on Q4 become available. We will report that information as soon as we know it.

More Telework

One trend that came about from COVID is that more and more Americans are working out of their homes rather than a traditional office setting. Federal employees have been no exception, and as of the time of this writing, the Office of Personnel Management notes that maximum telework flexibilities are still in place on its operating status page.

The Biden administration has also been a proponent of telework, and OPM issued updated telework guidance earlier this year in which it encouraged agencies to continue using this option.

OPM stated in its new guidance:

We know the benefits of telework for organizations and employers. A robust and well-practiced telework program improves employee performance and engagement and supports mission productivity and efficiency. Telework can serve as a critical workplace flexibility that enables agencies to meet mission-critical needs of the organization. And it can help Federal workers balance work and personal responsibilities and make use of beneficial work environments, thereby enhancing employee satisfaction and wellbeing, aiding retention, and serving as a draw to potential applicants.

Big Changes in Federal Labor Relations

With the change in administrations after the 2020 election, federal labor relations saw some significant changes.

Much of the changes early in the year were Executive Orders from President Biden that undid some of the policies of the Trump administration regarding federal employee unions and labor relations.

Schedule F, a change proposed during the Trump administration that would have created a new class of federal employees not subject to the civil service procedures applicable to most federal employees, was revoked.

In addition to revoking Schedule F, this Executive Order revoked three other Executive Orders issued by President Trump that placed greater restrictions on federal employee unions, decreased the amount of subsidies given to federal employee unions from the federal government, and made it easier to fire federal employees for performance reasons.

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.