New year, same pay freeze for senior political appointees in government.

The $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill extends a years-long suspension of pay raises for federally appointed officials until Jan. 13, 2024. After that, another extension is up to Congress.

The pay freeze authority was initially set by legislation in 2014 and has been renewed several times since via short-term and permanent budget deals. Pay freezes have been common for some of the 4,000 federal appointees whose work is confidential or influential in decision-making at the highest echelons of government.

Though not an usual deviation from the federal pay raise process, a freeze concerns those who say it has a noticeable effect on retention in the federal civilian workforce.

A study by RAND Corp. found that in a simulation of three-year pay freezes in the Department of Defense, which has an especially large employee pool, the workforce retained decreased by 7.3%.

“The political appointee pay freeze is bad policy that has long outlived its potential initial justification, now being in place for nearly a decade,” Jason Briefel, director of policy and outreach for the Senior Executives Association, told Federal Times. “It is far past time for Congress to allow this provision to lapse.”

In his 2011 budget proposal, then-President Barack Obama proposed an extended freeze on pay and elimination of bonuses for senior political appointees to reign in federal spending “at a time when millions of Americans are without work and millions more are going without bonuses and raises.”

Obama aimed for discipline in spending following the 2008 recession and economic malaise looming throughout his two-term presidency.

The latest iteration of the senior-level pay freeze, included in the annual spending bill, covers employees serving in the executive schedule or appointed positions for which pay is fixed at an EX rate, according to the Dec. 29 memo issued by the Office of Personnel Management.

The freeze also applies to chiefs of mission, ambassadors at large, non-career appointees in the Senior Executive Service paid at least $183,500, limited term appointees in the SES serving under a political appointment and any other type of employee paid at least the rate of an EX level four who serves under a political appointment.

Awards, bonuses and similar payments also fall under the hold on pay bumps.

General Schedule employees, among others, are not affected by this year’s freeze.

Last month, OPM issued new pay tables for fiscal year 2023, and President Joe Biden cemented the 4.6% average pay raise for most civilian employees. These annual systematic increases will still take hold because freezes only impact what is paid out to affected employees, not what is adjusted under normally applicable law.

That means official rates continue to be used in establishing pay limitations for employees not covered by the pay freeze, which this year is capped at $183,500 for GS employees.

The maximum for SES members and Senior Level and Scientific and Professional employees ranges from $195,000 to $212,100. However, for SES or SL employees who are senior political appointees covered by the pay freeze, the maximum payable rate of pay will be $183,500.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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