Senate appropriators silent on federal pay raise for 2020

Senate appropriators are silent on a federal pay raise next year, setting up a debate over exactly how much of a pay bump civilian employees should expect in 2020.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which on Tuesday afternoon marked up and cleared its own version of a 2020 spending bill, did not make mention of a federal pay raise.

The House, however, already passed a 3.1% federal pay raise for civilian employees, meaning congressional leaders will need to settle their differences and conference on this topic and others.

In their silence, Senate appropriators are essentially deferring to the proposal President Donald Trump offered late last month, which recommended a 2.6% across-the-board federal pay raise but no additional locality pay adjustment. Trump’s Aug. 31 announcement was a surprise, as the President had initially recommended a federal pay freeze in his 2020 budget proposal.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association was critical of the subcommittee’s decision.

“Senate appropriators have abrogated their responsibility and put their trust in the president, who has indicated support for a below-market 2.6% pay raise,” Ken Thomas, NARFE’s national president, said Wednesday in a statement. “NARFE urges Senate appropriators to follow the lead of their House colleagues and provide federal workers with a 3.1 percent pay raise.”

Pay for the vice president, political appointees and members of the Senior Executive Service would be frozen at 2019 levels, according to the Senate proposal.

The Senate subcommittee did, however, include a proposal to give the Office of Personnel Management an additional $43 million in 2020 over the previous year’s levels — the same recommendation that cleared the House back in June.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, described the proposal to “maintain OPM as an independent agency” as an example where both majority and minority members came to a “great agreement.”

The proposal essentially rejects the Trump administration’s proposed merger of OPM with the General Services Administration. The administration has said Congress has no choice but to reorganize OPM because the agency will face a $70 million shortfall when the National Background Investigations Bureau and its security clearance business move to the Defense Department.

A $43 million increase for OPM next year would be significant, as lawmakers have never typically been big spenders on the agency in recent history. The agency received $272 million in 2016, $289 million in 2017 and $287 million in 2018, according to past congressional budget justifications.

“I’m proud to say that our budget increases are limited,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), the subcommittee chairman, said Tuesday afternoon at the bill’s markup. “We did provide some budget increases but only to agencies with a demonstrated, unquestionable need. As a result, some of these accounts … received a budget cut and a few are completely eliminated.”

The subcommittee’s version of the draft 2020 bill includes nearly $24.2 billion dollars for a wide variety of other agencies, including the Treasury Department, Small Business Administration and others.

The IRS would receive $11.4 billion next year, $200 million more over 2019 levels. 2020 funding for the IRS would be the highest total for the agency since 2012, according to Kennedy.

The Treasury Department would get an additional $29 million to digitize old savings bonds that have matured but have been redeemed. The department originally requested $128 million for that project.

The General Services Administration would be authorized to spend $546 million more out of its Federal Buildings Fund. The bulk of that funding, $446 million, would go toward federal construction, according to the subcommittee. The rest would pay for rent payments of privately-owned lease space and operations and maintenance of federal buildings across the country.

“That’s going to save taxpayer money, because we won’t have to spend even more money next year or the year after that or the year after that to build a brand new building,” Kennedy said.

In addition, the Senate subcommittee plans to zero out the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), another departure from the House-passed proposal of $35 million in 2020.

“My constituents, just like yours, tell me this is an investment, not an expenditure,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said of the fund. “I understand the importance of reducing our national debt, and I want to be a participant in that effort. But our job is to prioritize. … I am anxious to work with you and Sen. Coons in regard to this topic before we meet on Thursday to see if there is an opportunity to continue now and in [fiscal 2020] financial support for modernizing the technology within the various agencies and departments of the federal government.”

Other provisions in the Senate subcommittee’s bill are designed to ensure agency inspectors general have access to necessary documents and records. In addition, the draft includes a requirement that all agencies link contract award fees to specific, successful acquisition outcomes.

A full committee vote on the 2020 bill is scheduled for Thursday morning.

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