House appropriators stay silent on federal pay for 2021

This story was updated on Wednesday, July 8, at 2:30 p.m. to reflect House subcommittee passage of the 2021 financial services and general government appropriations bill. 

House appropriators are silent on federal pay for now, increasing the likelihood that a planned 1% raise for civilian employees next year will advance as the president intended.

A draft budget bill for 2021, which the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government released Tuesday afternoon, makes no mention of a federal pay raise for General Schedule employees next year.

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The House subcommittee easily advanced the 2021 bill on Wednesday afternoon. The full appropriations committee will mark up and consider the bill next week.

In their silence, House appropriators are essentially deferring to the proposal President Donald Trump offered earlier this year. In his budget request for 2021, the president recommended a 1% across-the-board federal pay raise for civilian employees next year, with no further locality pay adjustments.

Military members are on track to receive a 3% pay raise next year.

The president broke with tradition and submitted his federal pay plans to Congress back in February, a move that administrations usually reserve for the end of August. By statute, the president must announce his intentions for federal pay by Aug. 31 of each year.

Congress, of course, has other chances to weigh in on federal pay, though if it was going to differ from the president, the House would have perhaps been the most likely of the two chambers to recommend a higher raise.

House members could introduce an amendment calling for a more substantial federal pay raise next year. The Senate could also act if it plans to introduce appropriations this year, though chances seem slim.

Congress could also cut a deal on federal pay later in the year through whatever budgetary vehicle members agree to, but lawmakers have little time during the election year to negotiate.

Without congressional action before the end of the calendar year, the president’s proposed 1% federal pay raise will likely advance. The president must sign an executive order implementing the 1% federal pay raise before the year ends.

Congress has twice intervened on federal pay raises in recent years, with lawmakers securing a 3.1% boost for civilian employees for 2020 and a 1.9% bump in 2019.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association was quick to dismiss the plan from the House subcommittee and urged members to reconsider.

“Over the past few months, Congress approved spending trillions of federal dollars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to fund the federal and community response to the outbreak — and to provide financial relief to businesses and individuals,” Ken Thomas, NARFE’s national president, said Tuesday in a statement. “And the House continues to vote in favor of additional relief, health care spending, infrastructure investments and soon, annual appropriations. But when it comes time to provide a modest pay adjustment to the federal workers it relies on to carry out that federal policy and spending, House appropriators find themselves empty-handed and poverty-stricken.”

Under a formula written into statute, federal employees are supposed to receive a 2.5% raise — before locality pay adjustments — in 2021.

The House appropriations subcommittee will mark up its version of the 2021 financial services and general government bill Wednesday afternoon.

The bill includes new language prohibiting the Trump administration’s proposed merger of the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration or Office of Management and Budget. 2020 budget law included similar language, though the 2021 bill offers more clarity on what kinds of inter-agency agreements OPM should avoid.

Specifically, the bill restricts OPM from entering into an inter-agency agreement or service-level agreement with GSA or OMB that exceeds $100,000, unless the agencies provide written advance notice to Congress.

OPM also would receive an $8.5 million budget boost over the previous year, according to the House subcommittee proposal.

The bill also provides a $606.4 million budget boost for the IRS over 2020 levels, with significant increases for taxpayer services and enforcement. The House subcommittee proposal also includes a $70 million increase for the IRS’ ongoing business systems modernization efforts.

GSA’s Federal Buildings Fund would have the authority to spend $9.1 billion in 2021, with $201 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters consolidation at St. Elizabeths.

In addition, the bill again attempts to put a stop to some of the more noticeable impacts of the president’s 2018 workforce executive orders on collective bargaining, official time and employee firings.

Specifically, the bill prevents agencies from denying unions office space in federal facilities and ensures labor representatives can use official time for union activities. It also prevents agencies from denying telework to federal employees for health and safety reasons.

The bill would also create a new Commission on Federal Naming and Displays, which would identify and publish a list of property names, statues, monuments, historical markers and other federal property that is “inconsistent with the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.” The commission would host at least two public meetings on this topic, with the goal of submitting a list of recommendations on property to rename to the president.

Finally, the House draft bill would allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be eligible for federal employment.