In a surprise move, President Donald Trump told Congressional leaders on Thursday that he was canceling a scheduled 2.1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers in 2019, saying the move is needed to deal with rising federal deficits.
"We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course," the President wrote in a letter to the House and Senate. "I view the increases that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate."
Mr. Trump is not only canceling a scheduled increase in pay, but also what's known as 'locality pay increases,' which go to federal workers who live in higher-cost areas of the country.
"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," the President wrote.
"These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce," Mr. Trump wrote in his letter to Congressional leaders.
A pay freeze has happened before, as during contentious budget fights in the Obama Administration, President Obama froze pay for two years in 2011 and 2012.
But the decision was quickly condemned by Democrats in Congress and the unions representing federal workers.
"Let’s be clear: the President’s decision to cancel any pay increase for federal employees is not motivated by a sudden onset of fiscal responsibility," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who labeled it part of a 'war on federal employees.'
"For President Trump, the federal workforce is just a punching bag," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who represents a significant amount of federal employees in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
"Trump sent the deficit skyrocketing to give massive tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while working families got nothing," the Democratic National Committee declared in a statement.
"This is a deeply disappointing action and one more indication that this administration, in this economic environment, simply does not respect its own workforce,” said Tony Reardon, President of the National Treasury Employees Union.
In a statement, Reardon noted correctly that the Congress could still override the President's decision - but that would have to come as what might be a messy battle over funding the federal government by the end of September, which is the end of the current fiscal year.
"Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade," said David Cox Sr., head of the American Federation of Government Employees, who also denounced the Obama pay freeze years earlier.
"It is simply obscene that the same person who gave away massive amounts of money to corporations and billionaires in a tax scam now is crying that we don’t have enough money for pay raises for the Federal workforce," said Will Fischer of the veterans group VoteVets.
According to figures from the Office of Personnel Management, there are a total of 1.87 million federal civilian workers employed full-time by the federal government, of which about one-third work for the Department of Defense.
The top states:
1. California - 152,466
2. Virginia - 144,295
3. Texas - 132,952
4. Maryland - 120,705
5. Florida - 89,504
6. Georgia - 71,739
7. Pennsylvania - 62,366
8. New York - 60,727
9. Washington State - 53,211
10. Ohio - 49,450
"Republicans gave corporations a trillion dollar tax cut and are now cutting pay raises for social workers, janitors, painters, clerical workers, and more," said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). "It’s outrageous."
The Senate has already approved a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal workers in 2019; that could still be sent to the President for his signature as part of broader funding measures for the federal government.