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White House to Freeze Pay for Federal Workers in 2019

Those serving in the military generally not affected by executive order

President Donald Trump arrives back at the White House on Friday evening without taking reporters' questions. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump arrives back at the White House on Friday evening without taking reporters' questions. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

As the partial government shutdown grinds on, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday evening that would freeze pay for federal workers  in 2019.

Trump telegraphed the move in his February budget request for fiscal 2019 when he proposed a pay freeze for the roughly 2.1 million federal civilian workers. That plan was confirmed by a formal announcement in August required to head off steep pay raises that would automatically take effect under a 1990 law, which presidents of both parties routinely override.

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” Trump wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to congressional leaders. “These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce.”

White House and Office of Management and Budget officials didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment Friday evening, and the Office of Personnel Management’s automatic email reply said responses may be delayed due to shutdown-related furloughs. The OPM posted the full details several hours after the initial executive order was released publicly.

“This is just pouring salt into the wound,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 100,000 federal workers. “It is shocking that federal employees are taking yet another financial hit. As if missed paychecks and working without pay were not enough, now they have been told that they don’t even deserve a modest pay increase.”

The decision to freeze pay in 2019 would also affect the 1.3 million or so federal civilian employees at agencies that already have full-year appropriations signed into law. That’s because provisions to block the president’s pay order are in a different spending bill that hasn’t yet become law.

Those workers, plus those who are currently either furloughed or working without pay, would receive pay raises of 1.9 percent starting Jan. 1 under the Senate’s fiscal 2019 Financial Services spending bill. House Republicans said before the midterm elections that they would go along with the pay increase, but that bill was left hanging along with six other unfinished fiscal 2019 appropriations measures.

“We expect the new Congress to pass legislation that provides a 1.9 percent pay adjustment for 2019 as soon as the government reopens,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers union.

The continuing resolution that would provide temporary appropriations through Feb. 8, which Congress couldn’t pass before the most recent stopgap funding law expired on Dec. 22, wouldn’t have provided a pay raise. That would likely have to wait for an omnibus fiscal 2019 spending package or a new CR, which is up in the air at the moment as Trump and Democratic leaders haggle over funding for fences and barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Uniformed military service members generally aren’t affected by the executive order, and will receive 2.6 percent raises starting next month under the terms of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization law.

Watch: What’s a Continuing Resolution?

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Jennifer Shutt and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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