House so far silent on proposed pay freeze, retirement changes

The House of Representatives has been silent so far on federal pay and retirement benefits for the next year, a development that brings a mixed bag of good and bad news to employees.

The Trump administration had reportedly wanted to include four legislative proposals that would change retirement benefits for current and future federal employees and retirees in the 2019 defense authorization act.

But those proposals are nowhere to be found in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which lawmakers passed Thursday morning with a 351-66 vote.

The NDAA is considered must-pass legislation, and Congress has in fact sent the massive bill to the president’s desk for at least the past 50 consecutive years. The Senate armed services subcommittees have been marking up their versions of the defense authorization bill this week. Their work will continue when Congress returns from recess after Memorial Day.

The Senate committee will pass its own version of the NDAA, which the full Senate must vote on. congressional armed services leadership will then conference on a final version of the authorization act, and lawmakers in both chambers will vote on its final passage.

Silence on federal pay is another matter.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction on federal employee matters, released and favorably voted its version of the 2019 appropriations bill out of committee on Thursday.

The legislation does not offer an alternative to the White House’s proposal. President Donald Trump indicated in budget proposal his intention to freeze federal pay in 2019.

Congress, however, has multiple opportunities to suggest and pass an alternative to the president’s proposed pay freeze during the appropriations process.

To be clear, the House subcommittee’s bill is at the very beginning stages of the appropriations process. The full House Appropriations Committee pass this bill first before sending it to the floor for a full vote.

The Senate also has a chance to weigh in. The Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hasn’t met yet to mark up its own version of a 2019 bill.

The White House could also change course. The president has until Aug. 31 to determine federal pay for the following year. Trump has not yet officially set pay for 2019, and that announcement typically comes on or near the final deadline.

An annual across-the-board pay adjustment formula in the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act typically sets raises for most federal employees under the General Schedule. The president can choose to differ from this formula, which he often does.

Trump approved a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal employees in 2018.

Senior leaders in the Trump administration this year have said they see a proposed workforce fund as a way to alleviate the impacts of a pay freeze. But the House subcommittee’s appropriations bill makes no mention of a $50 workforce fund for the General Services Administration to help agencies meet recruitment and retention goals and reward employees for making innovative contributions to their agencies.

The House appropriations bill does include $150 million for the administration’s IT modernization fund. The Office of Personnel Management would receive $14 million for its own IT modernization efforts.