President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal will likely include a pay freeze for all civilian federal employees, according to a non-public document communicating Office of Management and Budget guidance from the president to the Department of Homeland Security, which was obtained by Democratic staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and summarized for public release.

“The absence of a pay increase for federal employees, to include federal law enforcement, may present challenges for DHS components wishing to retain qualified employees. Morale and attrition within DHS have long been problems that the department has struggled to fix,” the summary said. “The implementation of a pay freeze will do little to incentivize law enforcement personnel at DHS components, who already face demanding jobs in often dangerous conditions, to continue their employment with DHS.”

The summary, first reported by Government Executive, also notes that DHS requests for Customs and Border Protection civilian employees to receive increased health benefits was rejected by OMB.

The communications document also called for reduced funding at the component in charge of U.S. ports of entry while prioritizing the addition of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents that DHS did not ask for, according to the summary.

“OMB instructed DHS to hire 1,000 more new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents officers than DHS actually requested, raising the total number of new law enforcement personnel ICE must hire in FY 2019 from 1,000 to 2,000. In contrast, OMB did not accept DHS’s proposed increase in funding for the Office of Field Operations, which employs CBP officers stationed at ports of entry and has major responsibilities for border security,” the summary said, adding that staffing for CBP officers is currently 3,600 below what it should be based on an internal staffing model.

The summary notes that OMB guidance is not a final indication of what will be included in the president’s budget request, but rather a “passback” of the president’s decisions on an agency’s proposed budget, which can be appealed by the agency. This passback is not normally released to either the public or Congress, but was exposed by a whistleblower because it “contains information valuable to the decision making interests of Congress and the public,” according to the summary.

Though not final, the decision to freeze federal employee pay in 2019 has already met criticism from federal employee groups.

“We’re deeply troubled by the report that the White House will be seeking a governmentwide pay freeze in 2019,” said National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association president Richard G. Thissen. “The millions of middle-class federal workers across the United States deserve fair and competitive compensation in exchange for their public service. Many accepted pay freezes when we were in the midst of a recession. But freezing pay when the economy is growing and private-sector pay is increasing is nothing more than an attack on the civil service,”

“This pay freeze proposal, along with proposed cuts to federal retirement benefits, aims to undermine the value this country places on public service by targeting the income security of those who carry it out,” Thissen continued. “Whether caring for our veterans, responding to disasters or just ensuring the day-to-day operation of democratic government, the work these individuals do is vital to our country, and it should be rewarded, not devalued. As the fiscal year 2019 budget process unfolds, we urge Congress to authorize the modest pay raise federal workers deserve.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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