(Senior Correspondent Mike Causey is on vacation. This column originally appeared Dec. 3, 2013).
When the federal pay raise kicks in — the first since 2010 — many top-paid workers will still stay stuffed in the salary deep-freeze at least through 2014.
The 1 percent white-collar pay increase will push hundreds, maybe thousands of workers in high locality pay areas up against the $155,500 ceiling on career GS pay. The freeze on locality pay adjustments will remain in effect. So everybody who gets a raise will get the same percentage amount. Except those at the very top in high-wage cities.
The $155,500 pay cap extends down as far as step 6 in San Francisco and San Jose, and to step 8 in the Houston, Los Angeles and the New York City metro pay areas.
In metro Washington, workers at steps 9 and 10 currently bump up against the cap.
Under the GS pay system, employees get semi-automatic performance pay raises each year in the first three steps of their grades, every two years for the next three steps and then every three years up to the top, step 10. The longevity raises are worth about 3 percent and they are subject to the pay cap.
Pay for the 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service is tied to Level 2 of the Executive Schedule. Pay increases for individual SES members are discretionary by agency within the broad band of SES pay (currently $119,554 to $179,700).
A spokesperson for the Senior Executives Association said that the Executive Schedule “gets an adjustment when the GS schedule does, but the ES adjustment is based off the change in the ECI (employment cost index), but can’t exceed the GS increase.” Although the ECI change this year was about 1.8 percent, the ES will get the same 1 percent that goes to the white-collar GS schedule. So if the ES goes up, the $179,000 SES ceiling will increase too.
If you are confused about how federal pay raises are determined, welcome to the club. The bipartisan Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (which was supposed to gradually close the pay gap between government and comparable private-sector jobs) has never been fully implemented.
According to data from conservative think tanks and news media sources, federal workers are paid more, in some cases much more, than their private-sector counterparts. The gap increases, in favor of feds, when benefits like retirement, holidays and vacation time are factored in.
Last year, however, the Federal Salary Council, interpreting Labor Department data, said federal civil servants on average were paid 34.6 percent less than private-sector workers. The council is made up of union representatives and outside pay experts.
Feds will soon see first pay raise in three years – but not all will benefit The slight 1 percent increase ordered by President Barack Obama last month is smaller than union advocates had pushed for, but it’s the first time since 2010 most civilian employees will see a bump in their basic rate of pay. Still, the modest pay raise only applies to white-collar employees under the General Schedule system. Some 200,000 blue-collar federal workers at places such as the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs as well as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, will not see a similar increase in pay.
A look back at 2013: Top federal stories of the year From technology failures to shrinking budgets, 2013 was a turbulent year for the federal government. Federal employees reported significantly lower morale than in prior years, and 13 people were killed in a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. Click through the gallery to view the top 11 federal stories of 2013.