The Senate’s fiscal 2025 defense spending bill supports a 2% pay raise for civilians working in the Pentagon next year.

While the bill only pertains to Defense Department workers, it backs up what President Biden’s budget prescribes for the rest of the civilian workforce.

It also includes a provision boosting buyouts to $40,000, up from the current maximum of $25,000.

“Taking care of the health, safety and economic security of service members, their families, DoD civilian employees, and contractors is vital to ensuring a resilient and ready force,” the White House said in a statement on June 11.

The defense budget still has a long way to go before it can become law, and additional constraints around spending caps are likely to make partisan negotiations over policy riders like diversity and abortion all the more difficult. The Senate bill, which passed through the Armed Services Committee on June 13 in a 22-3 vote, must now go to the full chamber for approval. Then, the House will do the same with its bill before both versions can be reconciled in conference, approved again, and then sent to the President for signature by Oct. 1.

“It’ll take a great deal more seriousness from leading Senate Democrats for the promise of American strength and leadership to carry any weight,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor after the vote.

If the 2% pay raise for 2025 takes effect, it’ll be considerably lower than what was offered in recent years. The total salary increase will also include a bump for locality, but in general, base pay raises tend to fall between 1-3%.

If the president or Congress took no action on setting pay, then it would be triggered automatically by a formula legislated in the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. The Federal Salary Council has said in its advisement that the pay raise would need to be around 4% for it to comply with FEPCA.

However, it’s uncommon for both the administration and lawmakers to be mum on the issue, so that scenario has never fully materialized.

For the rest of the workforce, the president usually sends a letter at the end of August to leaders of the House and Senate that formally declares an alternative pay rate. Joe Biden did that last year on Aug. 31.

The Senate bill also sets up a 4.5% pay raise for military members, which has support from the House but would be less than what was offered to troops in January.

The difference between the civilian and military pay raise stems from limits on discretionary spending mandated by the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act, according to Pentagon officials. It’s common, but not necessary, for military and civilian annual raises to be the same.

Still, recruiting challenges remain that pressure the department to hire despite limitations in pay. A Defense Business Board study from December shows the department’s recruitment efforts are decentralized, underfunded, mired in complexity and inefficient compared to the private sector. That same report found 42% of Americans who might do well in civilian DoD positions don’t even know they exist.

Public perception, too, may be a weakness for the department as Americans have been vocal about U.S involvement in Gaza and the ongoing support the country has lended to Ukraine’s war against Russia.

The Senate’s bill aims to help the flow of talent by codifying authority to hire military spouses into non-competitive civil service positions.

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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