White House Formalizes 2019 Pay Freeze

President Trump signed an executive order formalizing a 2019 pay freeze for federal civilian employees just before the end of 2018. As a government shutdown drudges on due to lapses in appropriations, federal workers must now prepare for a congressional battle to determine if the new year will bring a pay increase.

In an August 2018 letter to Congress, President Trump called for the pay freeze to make up for spending increases. President Trump explained, “In light of our Nation’s fiscal situation, Federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets.”

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers start the new year with uncertainty regarding their pay due to the government shutdown, this move to freeze pay increases tensions between the president and the federal workforce.

President of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), Ken Thomas, noted in a statement to the Federal Times, “Both the shutdown and the pay freeze impose real economic costs on federal employees and our country… Both undermine the effectiveness of the work our government does — from ensuring the national defense and homeland security to safeguarding taxpayer dollars from fraud — by damaging its ability to recruit and retain a highly qualified and talented workforce. Refusing to provide a nominal raise for our nation’s hardworking federal employees amid a partial government shutdown shows clear contempt for those who carry out public service.”

The Senate has already approved appropriations legislation granting a 1.9 percent pay raise to federal workers. The new Democrat-majority House is expected to follow suit, making the largest road block a signature from the president. If passed, this legislation would effectively void President Trump’s executive order.

Traditionally, the pay raise would take effect on the first full biweekly pay period of the new year, which this year would begin on Jan. 6. With the shutdown in effect and the executive order signed, this will likely not occur this year. However, as The Washington Post reports, a retroactive pay increase can be granted if Congress passes legislation calling for a pay raise, as occurred in 2003 and 2004 when lapses in appropriations legislation caused a similar problem.

President Trump met with both Republican and Democratic leadership in the situation room on Wednesday to discuss a path toward ending the shutdown.

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