The Obama administration is soon to make a proposal to fatten the wallets of federal bureaucrats nationwide in 2016, just in time for the coming presidential election. The proposal would implement a decision to create 13 new so-called locality pay areas. The proposals would mean that an additional 6,300 federal employees will receive a pay increase when they are moved from the “rest of United States” designation and into specific localities. This was according to a ruling issued by the Office of Personnel Management that did not, however, set the exact amounts for each locality percentage. President Barack Obama would determine those rates with an executive order.
 
Locality pay adjustments will mean a pay increase averaging 0.3 percent across the 46 regions of federal service with their own designations, plus the “rest of U.S.” grouping, according to an August 2015 announcement by the Office of Management and Budget. In the above OPM ruling, the agency contends that the creation of the new pay areas would lead to smaller increases than would have otherwise been issued for the existing localities.
 
Since 2010, locality pay has been frozen. Therefore, the change will probably welcomed by advocates for federal employees. Comments on the ruling since June have been mostly positive. Locality pay adjustments will be in addition to a 1 percent raise for General Schedule employees’ base salaries. The employees in the “rest of U.S.” designated areas received a 14.16 percent increase to their annual base salaries in 2015. Those in the specific areas received between 15 percent and 35 percent hikes.
The OPM rule establishes the following new regions: Albany NY; Albuquerque NM; Austin TX; Charlotte NC; Colorado Springs CO; Davenport IA; Harrisburg PA; Kansas City MO; Laredo TX; Las Vegas NV; Palm Bay FL.; St. Louis MO; and Tucson AZ.
 
OPM has advised labor unions that these will come into effect in 2016, “on the first day of the first pay period on or after Jan. 1, 2016.” The boundaries of the locality areas in 21 of the 33 existing regions will be changed in order to increase the number of employees receiving the larger salary increase. OPM decided to include Berkshire County MA in the Albany NY locality and Harrison County OH in the Cleveland OH locality.
 
Criticism of the government and Congress has come from several federal employee groups, such as the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) for giving low across-the-board raises to base pay in recent years, which followed three years of no raises at all. Labor unions have been clamoring for several years for the new localities. An OPM spokesman has been quoted as saying that the agency decided to make a move because of past pay freezes, furloughs, and budget sequestration. 
 
The AFGE, for instance, has advocated a bill introduced in Congress by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA). The Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act would give federal workers a 3.8% pay raise. On its website, AFGE stated “This raise would be huge for workers like you - write to your member of Congress here and encourage them to vote for the FAIR Act.”
 
AFGE also advocates raising the federal debt ceiling: an issue that has pitted Democrats and Republicans against each other in Congress and elsewhere. The AFGE website cited the “2003 invasion of Iraq under bogus intel” during the President George W. Bush’s administration, and “huge tax breaks for big corporations, which did not create jobs as promised,” as the major causes for the current federal budget deficit.
 
The website claimed, “Failing to agree to pay the bills by Nov. 3 could leave the government without enough money to pay Social Security recipients or military and civilian government employees.” According to AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “A vote to raise the debt ceiling isn’t a vote to increase our debt. It’s about paying the bills that Congress has already approved. Every American is expected to pay his or her bills on time. Congress needs to do the same thing.”
 
According to a report by the Cato Institute, getting ahead for Americans means getting a job in the federal government. Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at Cato, found that federal workers earned 78 percent more in 2014  than private-sector workers, on average. In addition, federal workers earned 43 percent more than state and local government workers. With 2.1 million civilian workers in hundreds of agencies around the country and overseas. In 2015, wages and benefits for executive branch civilian workers will cost more than $260 billion.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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