Congress tentatively agrees to pay increase for federal workers

Congress tentatively agrees to pay increase for federal workers

October 10th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Business Around the Region

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, right, talks with Dianne Putnam before an appearance by Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Dalton, Ga. Pence, running mate to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, spoke in the highly hispanic region as the campaign tries to soften its stance on immigration.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

With key support from a North Georgia politician, Congress has tentatively agreed to a pay hike for the country's 2 million federal employees.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, came to the table on a 1.9 percent raise for the employees as part of the new fiscal year's spending bill. Graves, the chair of the House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee, did not have the hike in his spending package, unlike the version passed in the House.

But last week, he said Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia, swayed him. The bill is currently in conference among members of the Senate and the House, with other issues still dividing the two sides. But the pay raise will take effect in January.

U. S. Rep Tom Graves answers questions from reporters after visiting the GE Roper plant Tuesday in LaFayette.

U. S. Rep Tom Graves answers questions from...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

"Thanks to Rep. Comstock's tireless advocacy," Graves said in a statement last week, "there is an agreement in place on federal pay raises. This wouldn't be resolved without her help or without President (Donald) Trump's booming economy."

According to the Federal Office of Personnel Management, there are about 41,700 federal government workers in Georgia and about 20,700 federal government workers in Tennessee, not including members of the military. In both states, the Department of Veterans Affairs accounts for the most workers, with about 11,000 employees in both states.

In Georgia, the next largest agency is the Department of Health and Human Services, which employs 9,000 people — including about 8,000 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Internal Revenue Service is the next largest federal employer in the state, with about 3,600 workers.

In Chattanooga, the raises do not impact the Tennessee Valley Authority, an independent, federally owned corporation. TVA sets its own budget and the pay scale for its 10,000 workers under the TVA Act. But TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the corporation's leaders consider acts by the Office of Personnel Management when thinking through their own pay scale.

A spokesperson for the Congressional Budget Office said they have not estimated the total cost of the pay raises. Their estimate of Trump's Fiscal Year 2019 budget projected a $151 billion boost in revenue, a 4.5 percent increase over the fiscal year that just ended.

According to the Washington Post, January's pay raise will be the second within about year. Congress also approved a 1.8 percent pay raise for most federal workers earlier in 2018.

The raise does not apply to members of the military. But in late September, Congress passed the DOD Defense Appropriations Act, which included a 2.6 percent pay hike for service members. Between the U.S. Air Force, Army and the Navy, Georgia employs about 30,000 military members. Tennessee employs about 5,200, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Because of differences between the House and Senate's version of the spending bill, Congress has only passed a short-term funding package that runs through Dec. 7. The two sides will try to iron out issues when the House returns Nov. 13.

While they have agreed on the pay raises, the two sides are still at odds over an end to the freeze on executive-level employees and appointees. This group includes high-ranking members of the federal government, including Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's cabinet.

It also includes the heads of some smaller agencies, as well as ambassadors. Former President Barack Obama implemented the freeze on these employees' salaries in 2011. Some Democrats have opposed ending the measure, even as the economy has improved over several years.

"There is no reason that the Trump administration, which boasts the wealthiest Cabinet in modern history, should be held to a different standard than the Obama administration when it comes to pay increases," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Another sticking point in negotiations: Graves' Fund for America's Kids and Grandkids. He said he wants to set aside $585 million, which cannot be spent unless Congress balances its budget.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-75706476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.