Trump sets pay freeze for federal workforce in 2019, citing budget problems

August 30, 2018

President Trump on Thursday rescinded a pay raise for civilian federal employees in 2019, saying the government can’t afford the scheduled pay increases for the federal workforce.

In a letter to Congress, Mr. Trump said a planned 2.1 percent pay increase across the board, and higher pay raises in some areas, will instead be set at zero at his orders.

“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” Mr. Trump said.

He said federal law authorizes the president to implement “pay adjustments” in cases of national emergency or “serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”

“I view the increases that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate,” Mr. Trump said.

Under current law, “locality” pay increases averaging 25.70 percent, and costing $25 billion would go into effect in January 2019, in addition to a 2.1 percent across-the-board increase.

The president said his decision “will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified federal workforce.”

“The cost of employing the federal workforce is significant,” Mr. Trump said. “In light of our nation’s fiscal situation, federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing federal employees and those with critical skill sets.”

He said across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases “have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities or target mission-critical recruitment and retention goals.”

The White House budget office has projected that the federal budget deficit will rise to slightly more than $1 trillion in fiscal 2019, an increase of $101 billion from the current year.

In contrast to civilian employees, U.S. troops will receive a 2.6 percent pay increase next year, their largest hike in nine years. The military pay raise was authorized in a $716 billion defense bill that Mr. Trump signed into law this month.

The left-leaning group VoteVets slammed Mr. Trump’s move, noting that about 30 percent of the federal workforce are veterans. Spokesman Will Fischer said it was “simply obscene” to freeze pay after the GOP enacted broad corporate and personal income tax cuts.

“Our hard-working veterans sacrificed for this country, and at a time when wages are stagnant and inflation is on the horizon, it is simply cruel to cancel a pay raise that so many of these veterans in the workforce were depending on,” Mr. Fischer said. “It is simply a lie to say we don’t have the money. We do, but Donald Trump would much rather give it to his CEO buddies, for stock buybacks, than put it in the pockets of our workforce.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Daniel Wessel called the move “another slap in the face to American workers.”

“Trump sent the deficit skyrocketing to give massive tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while working families got nothing,” Mr. Wessel said.

Update hourly