(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the continuing-resolution deal agreed to by congressional leaders would fund the government through April 2013. In fact, the six-month CR would fund the government through March 2013).
President Barack Obama is exercising his authority to give federal civilian employees a pay raise, but they’re going to have to wait until at least next April to receive it.
Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday offering an alternative plan that would extend the two-year pay freeze for federal employees until after a continuing resolution is over.
“Civilian federal employees have already made significant sacrifices as a result of a two-year pay freeze,” Obama said, in the letter. “As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, however, we must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”
Obama invoked the authority given to him under Title 5 of the U.S. Code to put in place alternative pay plans for employees who are covered by the General Schedule and other pay systems. He proposed an across-the-board pay increase of 0.5 percent for civilian employees and opted to keep current locality pay percentages at 2012 levels.
However, the earliest federal employees would see this pay bump would be next spring, when an expected continuing resolution is likely to expire.
Before the start of the August recess, congressional leaders reached a short-term agreement to pass a CR and avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. The CR would fund the government through March 2013.
“Assuming such a continuing resolution is enacted, the adjustments described above would take effect after the continuing resolution expires,” Obama wrote.
Union leaders voice objections
Obama’s announcement elicited sharp criticism from the leaders of two unions that represent federal employees, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.
“The President’s decision to extend the two-year federal pay freeze until Congress passes a budget is absolutely unwarranted and unjustified,” said J. David Cox Sr., AFGE national president, in a statement.
“Instead, he has contradicted his own fiscal year 2013 budget’s promise of an end to the pay freeze,” Cox said. “President Obama not only proposed a 0.5 percent federal pay adjustment for January 2013, he has also repeatedly referred to his support for an end to the two-year pay freeze in numerous statements to Congress.”
“While the administration has again signaled its intent to end the pay freeze for federal employees, it is disappointing that it may not end until April of 2013,” said Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in a statement Wednesday.
Kelley said her union considered the two-year freeze of federal pay to have been long enough and wanted the 0.5 percent federal increase to go into effect in January.
“Clearly, federal employees have sacrificed enough,” Kelley said. “Unlike any other group in our nation, federal employees are making a significant contribution to deficit reduction.”
Kelley said the two-year pay freeze, which was set to expire at the end of the year, has saved the government $60 billion. In addition, the increase in pension contributions by new hires will generate $15 billion more.
“That is a $75 billion contribution toward deficit reduction from federal employees,” Kelley said. “It is well past time that others, including the wealthiest Americans, are asked to share in the sacrifice.”
AFGE called on the President and Congress to negotiate a deal that would prevent federal health care premiums from increasing in January. “If our pay must be frozen, then so should our health care premiums,” Cox said.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.