2020 pay raise: He did what?

By now, even the most anti-Trump people should realize that the president very, very often zigs when we thought — and he sometimes says — that he is going to zag.

Take the 2020 federal pay raise. Now it’s not a question of will there be a raise. Instead the issue is how much, and will it be across-the-board or will there be a locality component as per usual?

Early this year the White House budget said there would be no January pay raise for the nation’s 1.2 million white collar civil servants. In this case the definition of white collar is broad in the extreme. It includes managers at the IRS, Pentagon, National Security Agency as well as scientists and doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health; rangers with the National Park Service, State Department diplomats and NASA astronauts. So it includes a lot of people in a lot of different agencies in every zip code in the nation.

In short, it’s a very big deal.


Pay is part of the retirement calculation so each raise boosts the eventual annuity of everyone working today who will someday retire under the Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System, or under foreign service retirement plans.

What happened is that after announcing there would be no 2020 federal pay raise, he changed his mind. The announcement came late Friday afternoon at the start of one of the nation’s three-day holiday weekends — the best time to bury a news story.

There is little doubt that the president will pursue his original plan if reelected. That plan is to get rid of automatic annual federal pay raises and accompanying automatic locality pay adjustments. Those across-the-board raises, which have been more sporadic than automatic, have resulted in wide pay differentials between federal workers in the Rest of the United States locality pay zone and higher pay for feds in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. It was a product of the George H.W Bush administration and the then Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

Many experts thought the automatic-pilot feature of FEPCA annual raises would take the politics out of the process and eventually bring pay parity between most federal jobs and their private sector counterparts on a city-by-city basis. But FEPCA was ignored or derailed by both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. The Trump administration wants to replace it with a system that would better reward top performers rather than giving everybody in the civil service the same across-the-board raises on an automatic basis.

But 2020 is, of course, an election year. And federal workers have typically gotten bigger, better raises in election years under both Democratic and Republican presidents. In an election where electoral votes are an issue, winning states like Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, California, Texas and New York are critical. All those areas have heavy concentrations of federal workers and retirees who would be happier getting a 2.6% raise than getting nothing.

Unions have reluctantly acknowledged the White House backing of a 2020 across-the-board raise of 2.6%. But they don’t want to see the locality component derailed for even one year, so they are backing the House-approved 3.1% raise.  The Senate hasn’t taken a stance on the size of the 2020 increase.

The game changer is that it has shifted from “Will there be a pay raise?” to “How much will the pay raise be?” That’s a multi-million-dollar shift that will mean more money for feds in the future, and larger lifetime annuities when they retire.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

If the term “armchair expert” feels too overused in a world of Twitter commentators and WebMD, try the word “ultracrepidarian” instead. It means one who is presumptuous and offers advice or opinions beyond their sphere of knowledge. The word comes from the story of the Greek painter Apelles, who overheard a cobbler criticizing the rendering of a foot in one of his paintings. Apelles retorted that he shouldn’t presume to judge beyond his station. His exact remark was lost but the Latin phrase “ultra crepidam” means “beyond the sole.”

Source: Merriam Webster

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