Senate appropriators propose federal pay freeze for 2021


Federal employees would not receive an across-the-board increase in pay next year under provisions outlined in a series of fiscal year 2021 funding bills released by the Senate Appropriations Committee Nov. 10.

Unlike FY2021 funding passed in the House earlier this year — which simply did not include any provision addressing federal pay — the Senate bill actively sets 2021 pay levels at the same rate as 2020. That difference would override any planned pay increase out of the White House, which was set at 1 percent in President Donald Trump’s February budget proposal.

Federal employees have seen record pay increases in recent years, all established by appropriations legislation, rather than the White House.

But concerns over increased government spending have often been met with proposals to save money by freezing federal pay, as was the case in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Spending on COVID-19 relief, coupled with a pandemic-downturned economy, has likely contributed to a lack of congressional enthusiasm on a 2021 increase.

The Senate bills do maintain prohibitions on appropriated funding being used to announce studies or competitions to convert federal jobs to contractor work.

Senate Democrats expressed dissatisfaction with the process used to craft the 12 appropriations bills released by the committee, most especially with the lack of committee markups and full Senate consideration, which removed the ability to offer amendments.

“However, our goal is to work with the House to conference all 12 appropriations bills and avert a government shutdown. We only have four weeks to do it. In order to accomplish our work, we need Senate bills to work from,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.

“The 12 bills being released by the chairman on Tuesday will help us move forward in this process. Many of the bills were the result of bipartisan work, and I appreciate those areas where we were able to come to agreement. However, there are significant issues that we will want to address in negotiations with the House.”

Those issues, however, did not include the lack of federal pay increases.

And though feds may not be getting more money under the Senate proposal, the Office of Personnel Management would get a $25 million increase on its budget to address cybersecurity and staffing needs, as well as modernizing necessary systems.

Such needs also extend to the larger federal IT workforce, which the appropriations committee noted in its explanatory statement was becoming out of date.

“The committee is concerned that the federal information technology workforce does not adequately reflect the skills, disciplines, experience and diversity required to enable the federal government to modernize and better utilize digital services to more effectively carry out its missions,” the explanatory statement said.

“The information technology occupational series describes roles and functions that, in many cases, are out of date with the modern technology workforce needs, contributing to an already flawed federal hiring process. The committee encourages the director of OMB, in coordination with the administrator of General Services and the director of the Office of Personnel Management, to identify the most critical roles and disciplines utilized in the private sector to assist departments and agencies in buying and building modern technology and digital services; modernize role descriptions for the Federal Government either within or in additional to the existing information technology occupational series; and make recommendations to federal departments and agencies on actions they can take to hire and retain employees with the necessary skills to meet today’s challenges.”

The appropriations committee also expressed concern that GSA’s NewPay payroll modernization initiative would end up being more costly than its promised benefit, including the initial investments in its development and costs for agencies to transition to the new system.

Federal funding expires Dec. 11, and Congress must pass either full appropriations or a continuing resolution by that date to avoid government shutdown.





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