March 3, 2017

By: Leo Shane III

WASHINGTON — Defense Department civilian employees could see a another pay boost later this year, thanks to President Trump’s federal hiring freeze.

The defense appropriations bill unveiled this week by House Republicans includes provisions for a pay raise of 2.1 percent above 2016 wages, larger than the 1.6 percent base pay raise defense civilians got on Jan. 1.

If approved, the move would bring the civilian pay raise for defense workers in line with their military colleagues. Troops saw a 2.1 percent pay raise at the start of this year, the largest since 2010.

In a budgeting twist, House Appropriations officials said their budget agreement does not specifically include extra funds for the bigger civilian pay raise, but “sufficient funding is available within the appropriations accounts to fully fund the increase due to assets created by the civilian hiring freeze” and other reductions in military spending.

In one of his first acts as commander in chief, President Trump in January ordered a freeze on all non-essential federal hirings, exempting some defense and Veterans’ Affairs specialists.

The controversial move has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, but House budget planners believe it has also freed up enough personnel funds in the military accounts to give civilian workers another 0.5 percent pay increase.

Some savings also come from reduced spending in defense department accounts since the start of the new year.

Even though the new fiscal year started last October, Congress has been unable to pass a full year budget for fiscal 2017. Instead, the Defense Department and most other federal agencies have been working off a continuing resolution keeping program spending at fiscal 2016 levels since last fall.

That agreement is set to expire at the end of April. If lawmakers can’t reach another compromise by then, it could trigger a partial government shutdown.

The just-released defense appropriations bill is the first step in that process, but the measure — and the extra defense civilian pay bump — has a long path ahead before becoming law. Democrats have already said they need to see non-defense spending plans from Republicans before they’ll move ahead on the military funding.

Federal worker advocates for years have argued that the military pay raise and defense civilian wage increases should be tied together, given that both groups are performing critical security work for the country. But those efforts have been unsuccessful in recent years.