Labor & Employment Law Daily Trump cuts federal worker raises due to ‘national emergency or serious economic conditions’
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trump cuts federal worker raises due to ‘national emergency or serious economic conditions’

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Does this justification conflict with other administration messaging about a strong economy?

President Trump has determined that he should implement “alternative plans for pay adjustments” for civilian federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems. He cited authorization to do so under Title 5, United States Code, because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,” when he viewed the increases, which would otherwise take effect, as inappropriate.

As a result, Trump determined that for 2021, the across-the-board base pay increase will be limited to 1.0 percent and locality pay percentages will remain at their 2020 levels. “This alternative pay plan decision will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce,” the President declared.

But didn’t you say? The inconsistency in Trump’s citation of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,” and his rosy economic messaging elsewhere has created cognitive dissonance that has not gone unnoticed. In his budget proposal, Trump’s himself said: “Our economy is strong once more, and America’s role as leader of the Free World has been restored.”

And Trump’s Republican Party also trumpeted the strong economy, tweeting on February 13, “Our economy is booming and Americans are thriving thanks to pro-growth policies championed by the President and congressional Republicans.”

Trimming the budget. Nonetheless, Trump explained that under current law, locality pay increases averaging 20.67 percent, costing $21 billion in just the first year, would go into effect in January 2021, in addition to a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase for the base General Schedule. However, the President said these increases should not go into effect because we must continue efforts to put the United States on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.

Given that the federal pay system “must reform to align with mission-critical recruitment and retention goals, and to reward employees whose performance provides value for the American people,” Trump’s proposed budget also directs federal agencies to increase awards spending in FY 2021 by an amount equal to no less than 1 percent of total salary spending.

Federal legislation to the rescue? In the meantime, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), has put its weight behind legislation (H.R. 5690, S. 3231) that would provide federal employees with a 3.5 percent pay raise in 2021. “Federal employees work hard every day to provide services to veterans, warfighters, Social Security recipients, victims of natural disasters, and every American,” National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley said in a statement supporting the bill. “Our members provide aviation and border security, protect our communities, and make sure that the food we eat and the products we use are safe for consumption.”

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