A ‘downer’ for federal employees: Trump cancels pay raises

September 4, 2018

President Donald Trump told Congressional leaders on August 30 that he intends to cancel a pay raise for civilian federal workers that is due next January—saying the nation’s budget cannot support it, according to a report by CNN.

In a letter to House and Senate honchos, Trump described the pay increase as “inappropriate.”

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the President wrote.

An across-the-board 2.1% pay increase for federal workers was slated to take effect in 2019. In addition, a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where a worker is posted-—the “locality pay increase”—was scheduled to take effect.

Trump said both increases should no longer happen, CNN reported, noting that, in ordering the raises canceled, Trump cited his statutory authority to adjust pay because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.” Yet the President frequently touts a growing US economy, including a strong growth rate for the gross domestic product and low unemployment

“These numbers are very, very sustainable — this isn’t a one-time shot,” he said last month after figures showed the US economy grew at a 4.1% annual rate in the second quarter of the year.

“I have determined that for 2019, both across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases will be set at zero,” he wrote.

However, the POTUS’s decision is not binding: Congress has an opportunity to effectively overrule the President’s edict if lawmakers pass a spending bill that includes a federal pay raise. The Senate passed a bill this summer that included a 1.9% raise for federal workers. The House’s version did not address federal pay. Senate and House negotiators will negotiate a final measure in the coming weeks, CNN said.

Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, released earlier this year, included a pay freeze for civilian federal workers. It is not clear if Trump would approve a budget from Congress that includes the pay increase; the White House has not issued a formal veto threat of the Senate’s bill.

In his letter, Trump claimed that a pay freeze would not affect the federal government’s ability to attract qualified workers, and said that the government would focus on “recruiting, retaining and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets.”

The implications of Trump’s decision on the locality pay increase were not immediately clear. Workers based in more expensive parts of the country are paid higher salaries to compensate for the higher cost of living.

In his letter, Trump wrote the locality increase in 2019 would have averaged 25.70% and would have cost the federal government $25 billion. But he did not say whether the locality adjustments already in place would remain in effect and the White House did not immediately clarify.

Reaction on Thursday from Democrats was swift—particularly those from states adjacent to Washington, D.C., where large numbers of federal workers reside.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), wrote: “Let’s be clear: The President’s decision to cancel any pay increase for federal employees is not motivated by a sudden onset of fiscal responsibility. Today’s announcement has nothing to do with making government more cost-efficient. It’s just the latest attack in the Trump administration’s war on federal employees.”

Research contact: @Kevinliptakcnn

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