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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 12, 2012

Government freezes most pay but not hiring

During the 2010 midterm elections, congressional Republicans pledged to freeze "both government pay and government hiring."

Government pay has indeed been frozen for the past two years, in the sense that annual, across-the-board adjustments to compensation tables have not been increased. On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama signed legislation to prohibit pay increases (technically, statutory pay adjustments) for most federal civilian employees. This legislation was passed by Congress, after the GOP had won the majority in the election but while the lame-duck Democratic Congress was still in office. Obama also issued a memorandum the same day that curbed pay increases for federal civilian employees not directly covered by the legislation, saying that agencies should forgo increases to pay schedules and rates set by administrative discretion.

This doesn't mean that no federal employees got raises. They could still be promoted to a higher-paying job, and they could also receive what are known as "within-step increases.” These are merit-based increases that certain employees -- such as those with sufficient tenure -- can receive. The legislation did not change the policy for "step” salary bumps.

Meanwhile, budget cutbacks did force some agencies to limit taking on new employees, but federal hiring was never specifically frozen.

Agencies that could afford it were free to hire -- and many agencies did hire people. Official statistics show that executive branch agencies did hire over 108,000 full-time, non-seasonal, permanent employees in fiscal year 2011 and another 59,000 in the first three quarters of fiscal 2012. Most commonly, agencies hired replacements for departing employees, said John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, a group that advocates for the civil service. Such hires wouldn't increase the size of the federal workforce, but they do count as "hiring.”

The pay freeze was an Obama decision, since he made the recommendation and since Congress could have overridden his decision but did not. Still, it's reasonable for the GOP to "claim credit for successfully pressuring the President to freeze pay." Since the pay freeze was largely implemented but the hiring freeze was not, we rate this promise a Compromise.

Our Sources

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley January 1, 2011

Civilian federal employees get pay frozen for two years

During the fall campaign, Republicans said that if they got control of the House, they would freeze federal hiring and freeze the pay for federal employees.

Less than a month after the election, President Barack Obama got things rolling on that promise when he announced his intention to seek a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees. Obama said the move would save $2 billion over the rest of this fiscal year, and $28 billion, cumulatively, over the next five years.
"I did not reach this decision easily," Obama said. "This is not just a line item on a federal ledger. These are people"s lives. They"re doctors and nurses who care for our veterans; scientists who search for better treatments and cures; men and women who care for our national parks and secure our borders and our skies; Americans who see that the Social Security checks get out on time, who make sure that scholarships comes through, who devote themselves to our safety. They"re patriots who love their country and often make many sacrifices to serve their country.  
"In these challenging times, we want the best and brightest to join and make a difference.  But these are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices.  And I"m asking civil servants to do what they"ve always done -- play their part."

On Dec. 21, 2010, Congress passed a stop-gap funding bill that included the two-year pay freeze for federal civilian employees. It passed on a 193-to-165 vote in the House; and 79-16 in the Senate.

It remains to be seen if that freeze will be included in the permanent funding bills once the new Congress has convened,  or if a net federal hiring freeze on non-security employees will also be included. But even before the new Republican majority has been sworn in, this promise is very much In the Works.

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