Workforce

OPM chief says pay bump for feds is coming soon

Shutterstock ID 792858589 by Andrey_Popov 

There's still no target date for federal employees to receive a congressionally mandated pay raise and back pay, but a senior official said the administration is close to finalizing the details that will put salary bump into effect.

The approval is "in the final legal clearance stage," Margaret Weichert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, told reporters after a March 20 event hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration.

"The [executive order] that unleashes the retroactive pay is dealing with pay tables that are so highly complex that it is exceedingly legalistic how we actually have to get this squared away," she said. "It is purely a lawyering activity that is near its end."

The hold-up, Weichert said, is due to the complexity of the legal process surrounding pay raises, and has "nothing to do" with the payroll systems.

"I totally get that people are frustrated it takes this long," she said. "I'm frustrated, too. And that is how this works in law, so we need to do it in a way that's appropriate to the complexity of what we're dealing with."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), whose district is home to many federal employees and who has been pressing the administration to deliver on the pay raise, was more skeptical.

"Arcane legal analysis always seems to impede the Trump Administration when federal employees pay the price," he said. "These same legal hurdles disappear when the president wants to overstep legal and constitutional authorities to get funding for an unnecessary wall along the border. I think the only legal question here is why the administration is ignoring a law that requires back pay for our already beleaguered federal workforce. We need the administration to get its priorities straight."

Jason Briefel, executive director of the Senior Executives Association, said he found the explanation plausible.

"Aligning the policy changes from Congress and the EO with all of those systems, with legal requirements, with the technical [and] administrative piece certainly is not just as simple as flicking a switch on-off, especially given we have multiple federal payroll providers with different systems and processes," he said.

Jeff Neal, senior vice-president for ICF and a former agency chief human capital officer agreed, saying that while the pay raise could have been done faster, he said the delay to date "is not outrageous."

Another pay proposal the White House is planning, Weichert said, is a broad study on workforce compensation.

"One of the things we're about to go to field with is a broad, modern compensation, rewards and recognition study" looking at locality pay, work-life balance and rewards based on performance recognition, she said.

The administration plans to contract out the study. "We haven't made the award yet, so it's coming," she said. "But we have structured the ask and we're moving forward with that."

Weichert also said the White House is looking to delegate more "regulatory flexibility" regarding workforce and rewards to agency heads. The "overarching premise" of coming regulatory changes, she said, "is looking at how do we decentralize some of the things that are unnecessarily centralized today."

She's looking to give agency heads more authority in deciding whether employees should receive raises over the statutory cap.

"The OPM director doesn't have more information about who deserves that money than the agency head," she said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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