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3.3 percent pay raise proposed for federal employees in 2015

Federal pay raises 2000 - 2014
Federal pay raises 2000 - 2014

In a March 27 article in ArlNow, a publication in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) is cited as co-sponsoring a bill in the House of Representatives that would give federal workers a 3.3 percent pay increase for 2015. Congressman Gerry Connolly, also from Northern Virginia, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Both Congressman represent areas of Virginia heavily populated with federal workers in the cities of Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Annandale, and the counties of Fairfax County Prince William.

The legislation is entitled The Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act (HR 4306).

In a press release dated March 26, Moran wrote: "Federal workers deserve to be compensated for the vital role they play in the lives of millions of Americans. These are the men and women finding lifesaving cures at NIH, catching criminals, supporting our troops, and protecting the environment. They have bills to pay and families to support. After three years of pay freezes and too many furloughs, they've earned this modest, decent raise."

While the Congressman's arguments are persuasive, particularly to those that would like to receive the pay raise, what are the chances of federal workers actually receiving the 3.3% increase? While it is certainly possible, since this is an election year for Congress, the chances are not very high.

President Obama has proposed a pay raise of 1% for 2015 rather than the 3.3% proposed in the latest bill. Many in Congress who do not have a large percentage of federal employees in their districts are going to use his proposal as a guide for the amount of the 2015 pay raise, if any, in 2015.

Federal employee unions have decried the president's proposed pay raise of 1% as "pitiful" and a recent survey of federal workers shows that they think a raise of 4% would be more fair.

Several factors also weigh against the larger pay raise and will likely play a role in any decision Congress may make on this issue. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the average federal employee salary in 2010 was $83,679 and the average private sector salary was $51,986. And, when benefits are added in, the average compensation for each federal employee comes to $126,141, again according to the data from BEA. For private sector workers, the average compensation package, including benefits, was $62,757 for the same year.

Federal employees often have jobs that require college degrees or specialized skills that are often not the case in the private sector and this is often cited as a reason for the higher federal employees salaries. Also, the Federal Salary Council, a group that is composed largely of federal employees unions, contends that federal employees are underpaid by about 35% compared to what they would make in the private sector.

While that may be the case, many in Congress that do not represent a large number of federal employees do not want to run for election against an opponent who would use a vote in favor of larger federal salaries against them in an election. With the official unemployment rate at 6.7%, and the real unemployment rate at about 12.6% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is considerable resentment and political pressure not to provide a 3.3% pay raise in 2015 for federal employees who are perceived as having a very secure job in a career field when many Americans are unemployed or no longer looking for work.

Another factor is that federal employee unions are strong supporters of Democrats during election season. While federal employees may vote more in line with the general population, federal unions use their resources and money to generally support Democrats. The unions' efforts garner publicity—and votes—for Democrats who are seeking election. Republicans in Congress are very much aware of this and their reaction can be seen in proposed legislation that would take away benefits from unions. For example, legislation was introduced last year to reduce or eliminate the amount of time spent by federal employees who are paid their regular federal salaries to conduct union business.

Congressman who see federal employee unions and, by extension, federal employees represented by unions, as trying to unseat them as they support their opponents in an election are not likely to vote for a significant pay increase for federal workers.

With the national debt now in excess of $17 trillion, and going up rapidly, a Congressman who may have several reasons for voting against the pay raise need only cite the national debt as a reason for voting against the raise. Moreover, as was done in 2013, Congress need not take any action at all. That lack of action resulted in an across-the-board increase in 2013 without Congress having to vote on the issue. The raise was granted when President Obama issued an executive order after Congress declined to take action.

While no one knows what the final outcome will be as the political process is difficult to predict in any year, particularly when Congressional elections will be held in November, chances are that the final pay raise figure for federal employees will be closer to 1% than to 3.3%.

The pay scales for the General Schedule of the federal workforce can be found in this database. It displays the salaries at each step and grade for federal employees throughout the United States. The salaries for individual federal employees are also available.

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