UPDATED: Trump signs order making 2020 pay raises official

President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday implementing pay raises to take effect in the next year for military personnel and federal civilian employees, putting the finishing legal touches on salary increases the White House and Congress agreed to as part of this year’s budget process.

For military members, the 3.1% pay raise will take effect on Jan 1; civilian feds will see pay hikes of roughly the same percentage effective in their first paychecks in January.

Unlike in some past years, the president’s late-December executive order contained no surprises, since the increases had already been agreed on as part of the 2020 appropriations package Congress passed and the president signed earlier this month.

But it brought finality to what had been a year of some uncertainty on the civilian pay front. As part of its 2020 budget proposal, the Trump administration had initially advocated a pay freeze for civilians. Then, in August, the president changed course and proposed a 2.6% civilian pay raise.

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The General Schedule raises that will take effect in the new year will still amount to 2.6% for base pay, but they’ll be supplemented by an average 0.5% increase across the nation’s locality pay areas. The pay tables the Office of Personnel Management published late Thursday show the actual raises will range from 2.85% to 3.52%, depending on an employee’s location. (See the full list here).

And for at least the beginning of 2020, the list of locality areas will be the same as in 2019. However, last week, the president’s pay agent delivered a report approving the addition of Des Moines, Iowa as a new locality pay area and making Imperial County, Calif., a new “area of application” within the Los Angeles area.

Those new areas, however, won’t formally take effect until later in 2020, when OPM undertakes a formal rulemaking process to implement them.

Pay freeze remains in effect for political appointees

However, not everyone on the federal payroll will see an increase in 2020. Congress continued a pay freeze for certain political appointees and the vice president.

Pay for senior political appointees in this situation will be frozen until the start of the first pay period in 2021.

Specifically, the pay freeze covers employees serving in an Executive Schedule position, a political appointment or a chief of mission or ambassador-at-large.

The pay freeze doesn’t cover General Schedule employees, including Schedule C employees within that system, Foreign Service employees, and career members of the Senior Executive Service who have chosen to retain SES basic pay. (Find SES basic pay rates for 2020 here.)

Employees at GS-15 whose salaries have been maxed out at the Executive Schedule IX rate will receive $170,800, a total that reflects the 2.6% across-the-board pay adjustment.

Pay for freeze-covered Executive Schedule employees and those paid at an EX rate by law will range from $148,500-to-$203,500, according to OPM guidance on the matter. Still, OPM continues to adjust EX pay rates in accordance with the 2.6% across-the-board raise, again, because not all employees are covered by a pay freeze intended for senior political appointees. (Find official Executive Schedule pay rates for 2020 here.)

The Vice President will once again receive $235,100, according to OPM guidance.
Congress has frozen pay for political appointees at least since 2014, when lawmakers included a provision holding pay rates at 2013 levels in a 2014 omnibus. The provision detailing the pay freeze has become practically standard appropriations language since then, and it has appeared in subsequent spending bills and continuing resolutions for the past several years.