Thousands of Defense Department and Veterans Affairs staffers will see a pay raise at the end of January as part of an administration mandate that all federal employees receive salaries of at least $15 an hour.

The move follows a yearlong review by the Office of Personnel Management on federal workforce pay issues. In a statement, officials said the move was “the right thing to do” for the public servants and to keep wages competitive with the private sector.

“Raising pay rates across the federal government to a minimum of $15 per hour reflects our appreciation for the federal workforce and our values as a nation,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management. “We know that paying a living wage provides a myriad of benefits, from recruitment to retention to increased productivity, and more.”

About 67,000 individuals in the 2.2 million person federal workforce will be affected by the change.

Of that total, OPM officials said about 56,000 currently work as Defense Department employees, with most performing “non-appropriated fund activities at military bases around the country [that] provide essential services to our military, including many who are military spouses.”

In a statement, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros called the move “an important step for the civilian men and women who support the military community and their families” and a “well-deserved” pay raise.

Another 9,700 of the federal workers who will benefit from the change are VA employees. Department officials said they include custodians, housekeeping aides and food service workers.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough called the workers “critical front-line employees, central to patient safety and improved outcomes for veterans” and noted that many have acted as front-line service providers workers through the coronavirus pandemic.

The pay raises will go into effect by Jan. 30. The $15-an-hour pay rate is roughly equivalent to $31,000 a year, without overtime or bonuses.

Under changes in federal policy in 2021, all government contractors already are required to pay employees at least $15 an hour for their work.

However, a proposal in Congress in summer 2021 to guarantee service members base pay of no less than $15 an hour was rejected because of cost and implementation concerns. Enlisted troops with less than two years of military service can earn around $22,000 a year in base pay, but that does not factor in other compensation, like free health care and housing stipends.

In a statement, American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley praised the action as “one of [the president’s] most significant actions to date.”

“For the tens of thousands of workers who will start seeing more money in their paychecks each week, this is a transformative policy choice that will improve their everyday lives,” he said. “Setting a new, $15 per hour wage floor for federal government work will encourage employers across the country who are currently paying poverty wages to compete for labor and start paying fairer rates, lifting the wages of American workers across the country.”

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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