Erich Wagner | December 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

OPM Leadership Void Leaves Locality Pay Advisers Twisting in the Wind

Every year, the Federal Salary Council and the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee submit recommendations to the White House for tailoring federal pay based on regional cost differences.

At least, that’s how it used to work.

Members of the most recent Federal Salary Council confirmed Monday that they have not met since 2016, and said the Trump administration has not acted to either reappoint them or name new members to the advisory group.

“We don’t have any information at this point,” said Jacqueline Simon, legislative director for the American Federation of Government Employees and a member of the council. “I’ve been in touch with [the Office of Personnel Management], but no new people have been appointed and we haven’t been reappointed. And the chair and the outside experts, to our knowledge, have not been reappointed. I’ve spoken to the staff, and they haven’t heard anything either.”

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In previous years, the FSC would meet in the late summer and early fall to go through data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That work would culminate in a series of recommendations to provide federal employees in designated high-cost areas additional pay reflective of those higher costs. And in December, the President’s Pay Agent—a body composed of the secretary of Labor and the directors of the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management—would consider those ideas before finalizing locality pay for the coming year.

Last year, the council suggested lowering the threshold for adding areas to the locality pay table, specifically reducing or eliminating the requirement that a region be home to a minimum number of General Schedule employees. The PPA rejected that proposal last December, but moved forward with a plan that would add Virginia Beach, Va., and Burlington, Vt., to the list of regions where feds would receive larger annual adjustments to their base pay.

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union and a member of the 2016 Federal Salary Council, said in a statement that he has inquired repeatedly this year about the status of the council, but to no avail.

“The council plays a critical role in reviewing locality areas and determining whether the council members recommend new locality pay areas, and in reviewing the data collected and calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the pay gaps that determine the various locality pay rates,” he said. “It is disappointing that the administration has not convened a meeting this year, and NTEU will continue to press for the salary council to meet in 2018.”

OPM did not respond to requests for comment.

Simon said she does not expect the White House to make any changes to the current locality pay table, noting that OPM has not proposed any new regulations on the matter this year. OPM must publish the document before the end of the year.

Simon remains optimistic that this year’s inaction will be a one-time occurrence, provided a permanent OPM director is confirmed by the Senate.

“I think once the new OPM director is in office, I think that’s when we’ll get back to work,” Simon said. “Obviously this is a year lost, which is not good, so of course we’re concerned with that. But we’re hopeful that with a new OPM director, the work will resume.”

President Trump first nominated George Nesterczuk to be director of OPM in May, but he withdrew his name from consideration in August, after concerted pushback from federal employee unions.

And Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in October that he would not allow a vote on Trump’s next choice to lead the agency, Jeff Pon, until he received agency documents related to a 2013 OPM rule allowing Congressional employees to purchase subsidized insurance on the D.C. Small Business Health Options Plan exchange rather than on the individual market.

Since then, the committee has advanced a number of other nominees, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and General Services Administrator Emily Murphy, both of whom were confirmed to their posts last week. But Pon has not yet received a vote by the committee.