Workforce

OPM extends pay freeze for senior ranks

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The Office of Personnel Management is extending a pay freeze for senior political officials -- at least until Congress passes appropriations legislation.

The pay freeze was scheduled to end on Jan. 6 -- the last day of the last pay period for calendar year 2017. However, a memo from OPM extends the freeze until at least Jan. 19, the date the current continuing resolution expires.

In the meantime, pay will remain frozen at 2013 levels for the vice president and "certain senior political appointments," according to the memo. For senior executives whose salaries fall below the $164,200 maximum, their pay can still be increased up to this cap.

Whether the freeze will continue beyond the passage of the budget is up to Congress. "Until Congress acts on appropriations legislation, we will not know whether the pay freeze continues beyond January 19, 2018," the memo stated.

In October, Congress approved a budget blueprint that did not include the proposed billions in federal retirement benefits initially sought by conservatives on Capitol Hill. And in December, a group of 95 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle urged House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to oppose cuts to federal pay and benefits.

However, the administration is looking for broader civil service reform in 2018 and beyond.

While the White House did follow through on its proposal to bump civilian pay by 1.9 percent in 2018, it has looked to cut retirement benefits by billions of dollars and even install a civilian pay freeze in 2019, according to a budget document made public in December by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Even with the pay raise, J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, has argued the White House's proposed cuts to federal retirement -- which would reduce retirement benefits by more than $3.3 billion, leaving employees to pick up the tab with an additional $3.2 billion in retirement contributions -- effectively amounts to a pay cut.

"Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by $182 billion and growing since 2011," Cox said. "They are earning 6.5 percent less today than they did at the start of this decade, even as costs for health care, groceries, and other expenses continue to rise. Federal workers can't afford more cuts to their pay and benefits."

Additionally, the President's Pay Agent -- a committee made up of Secretary of the Department of Labor Alex Acosta, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and the Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management Kathleen McGettigan -- wrote in its report for 2018, "Ultimately, we believe in the need for fundamental reforms of the white-collar Federal pay system."

"We believe it is imperative to develop performance-sensitive compensation systems that will contribute to a government that is more citizen-centered, results-oriented, and market-based. We need to empower Federal agencies to better manage, develop, and reward employees in order to better serve the American people," it read.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees across 31 agencies, also pushed back against the need for changes to the current system.

"The [General Schedule] system has ensured that the federal government uses a transparent pay system and has limited the ability for favoritism, discrimination or other non-merit determinations to come into play," he said. "This is an area where the federal government is leading by example and others should follow."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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