Federal employees looking for major changes to locality pay will be disappointed in 2018, as the entities that typically make small but significant moves on federal salaries were largely inactive during the first year of the Trump administration.
Still, in the final days before the Christmas holiday, President Donald Trump made the 2018 pay raise official. He authorized an average raise of 1.4 percent and an additional 0.5 percent adjusted for locality pay for a total of 1.9 percent for civilian federal employees. The figures are in line with the president’s alternative pay plan, which Trump announced in August.
Federal employees in one of the existing 46 locality pay areas across the nation will see slightly different numbers.
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Similar to previous years, the highest locality pay adjustments for 2018 are:
(For a more detailed view of all 46 different locality areas, hover over your region to see the approved total 2018 increase. Graphic by David Thornton)
The President’s Pay Agent, a body made up of the Labor secretary, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director, this year did agree with the Federal Salary Council’s original recommendation to establish Birmingham, Alabama, and San Antonio, Texas, as separate locality pay areas.
It’s one step in a long regulatory process, and federal employees in those areas won’t see pay changes immediately. The move must go through “appropriate rulemaking,” which will likely take at least year to complete.
Meanwhile, federal employees in Burlington, Vermont, and Virginia Beach/Norfolk, Virginia, are still waiting indefinitely for a locality pay raise that’s already received approval.
“Although we agree with the council that we should issue regulations proposing establishment of new Burlington, Vermont, and Virginia Beach, Virginia locality pay areas, we have not yet made a final decision on the timing,” the pay agent wrote.
The pay agent in December 2016 had tentatively approved the two locations as separate pay areas, and the motion was set to enter “appropriate rulemaking” with input from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the regulations to establish Burlington and Virginia Beach/Norfolk as new locality pay areas have been in limbo, as the staff who prepared them are still waiting for the green light from administration leaders to publish them, said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
AFGE sat on the Federal Salary Council in previous years. The council, however, hasn’t met since 2016.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Simon said. “These localities were recommended almost two years ago, and there was every expectation they’d be approved because they met the requirements.”
The Federal Salary Council originally voted back in November 2015 to move Burlington and Virginia Beach/Norfolk out of “rest of the U.S.” pay category and establish them as separate entities.
An OPM spokesman told Federal News Radio that the agency didn’t have an exact timeline for establishing either of the four new locality areas. At the earliest, new pay rates for those areas would take effect in January 2019, the spokesman said.
The Federal Salary Council may become more active in 2018.
Trump recently appointed two new members to the Federal Salary Council, Ron Sanders, a former OPM official and chief human capital officer for the Intelligence Community, and Katja Bullock, an executive assistant for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Simon expects the union will eventually sit on the council in the future. The president typically names three experts in labor relations and pay policy and six representatives from organizations that represent large numbers of General Schedule employees to serve on the salary council.
In addition, the lack of permanent leadership at OPM didn’t help the council’s inaction in 2017, Simon added.
Trump appointed Jeff Pon to be the permanent OPM director back in September. Pon appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for his confirmation hearing in October, but committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has put a hold on the nomination.
But the Federal Salary Council is an advisory body, Simon said, and the President’s Pay Agent doesn’t always accept all of the council’s recommendations.
“They accept some recommendations, but they certainly don’t have to take all of them,” she said.
For example, the the President’s Pay Agent has continued a multi-year trend and rejected the council’s recommendation to eliminate the GS Employment Criteria as the basis for its decisions on locality pay areas.
The GS Employment Criteria refers to the number of GS employees who work in a specific location. The Salary Council has long favored another approach, the Adjusting Commuting Criteria, which would include the number of GS employees who commute to a specific area for work.
The Council has said that including the commuting data as a factor would help it make decisions that would impact multiple locations and large groups of federal employees, rather than tackling pay disparities one at a time for a specific area.
And once again, the President’s Pay Agent called for more substantial changes to the federal pay system, though it didn’t offer concrete or detailed suggestions.
“Ultimately, we believe in the need for fundamental reforms of the white-collar federal pay system,” the pay agent wrote in its most recent report. “We believe it is imperative to develop performance-sensitive compensation systems that will contribute to a government that is more citizen-centered, results-oriented and market-based. We need to empower federal agencies to better manage, develop and reward employees in order to better serve the American people.”