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It’s time to recognize federal workers for a job well done

A meaningful pay raise could help in more ways than one

Federal workers and contractors demonstrate in the Hart Building amid the 2019 government shutdown. These workers perform jobs that are critical to our country and deserve to be paid what they’re worth, Kelley writes.
Federal workers and contractors demonstrate in the Hart Building amid the 2019 government shutdown. These workers perform jobs that are critical to our country and deserve to be paid what they’re worth, Kelley writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Federal employees have been through the wringer these past few years. They have withstood government shutdowns and budget showdownsattacks on their credibility and workplace rights from no less than the former commander in chief, and a global pandemic that has threatened their safety and complicated their sworn mission to serve the public.

Despite staffing shortages that have endangered their lives, forced relocations that have disrupted their lives at work and at home and even attempts to abolish the agencies where they work, federal employees have persevered and demonstrated their commitment to the country time and time again.

It’s time we recognize them for a job well done. It’s time they receive a meaningful pay raise.

President Joe Biden agrees that federal employees have earned a pay raise next year, and he’s proposed a 2.7 percent increase — which matches what members of the military are slated to receive.

While that’s a marked improvement from the 1 percent across-the-board raise that federal employees received this year, it’s simply not enough to make up for years of pay freezes and insufficient wage hikes that have decimated their buying power.

That’s why we support legislation introduced in both the House and Senate that would provide federal employees with a 3.2 percent raise in January. And to maintain the long tradition of providing equal pay raises to civilian employees and the military, servicemembers should receive the larger raise too.

The Biden administration’s proposed raise continues a decadeslong pattern of failing to fully fund the pay system that Congress established back in 1990.

Recognizing that federal employee wages were not competitive with wages paid to employees doing the same jobs in the private sector and in state and local governments, Congress adopted a locality-based pay system in 1990 that was designed to narrow the pay gap between federal and nonfederal workers to 5 percentage points within 10 years. Yet the required pay increases have never been funded by Congress, while successive presidents from both political parties have used a loophole in the law to avoid authorizing the full locality payments.

Even excluding the locality payments, the across-the-board raises that federal employees have received over the past decade and longer have failed to keep pace with inflation. As a result, the purchasing power of federal salaries has declined nearly 5 percent since 2011.

A 3.2 percent pay raise would allow federal employees to receive a decent across-the-board raise in addition to a larger increase in their locality pay, which was frozen this year.

Providing this modest but meaningful pay raise would not only help restore the living standards of federal employees to pre-recession levels, it would also help agencies recruit and retain a high-quality federal workforce, which it has struggled to do in recent years.

These are the workers who serve our veterans and active-duty military, protect our skies and borders, provide relief to victims of natural disasters, and ensure the safety of our food, air and water. The jobs they perform are critical to our country, and we owe it to them to pay them what they’re worth.

Everett Kelley is the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which is the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees.

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