Kellie Lunney | January 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Obama's Track Record on Federal Pay and Benefits

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

President Obama’s legacy, like that of all presidents, rests somewhat in the eye of the beholder. For many, the 44th commander-in-chief forever will be linked to his eponymous health care reform law and his epic tussles with Congress. But for most federal employees, the real Obama legacy isn’t about policies, or even management: It’s his track record on federal pay and benefits. And there are some pretty strong views on that, whether you’re talking to a member of the Senior Executive Service, or a GS-10.

“We have not been happy with pay; I’ve always been very open and honest [about that],” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a December briefing with reporters. Federal employees will never forget the three-year pay freeze from 2011 through 2013 under Obama -- which Congress also was responsible for. Obama actually tried to end the freeze in 2012 through an executive order, which lawmakers overturned through legislation and the president signed.

“I had a chance to talk with both of them, and I reminded President Obama that President Bush did give better pay raises than he did, as they were both trying to tell me how they’d both been really good for federal employees,” Cox recalled of an event he attended about two years ago, where he found himself standing between the two men. “So, I pointed that out.”

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Then in 2013, the White House canceled the annual Presidential Rank Awards, which honors the federal government’s top career officials with bonuses between 20 percent and 35 percent of their salaries. It was the first time a president had canceled the awards since the program was created in the late 1970s. The White House cited budget cuts and furloughs caused by congressionally-mandated sequestration, and the subsequent need to belt-tighten across government as the reason for scrapping the awards.

The awards were reinstated in 2014. “At such a challenging time, we need the kind of executives exemplified by the Presidential Rank Awards, and we cannot afford yet another action which chips away at the few remaining attractors for service in the career executive corps,” said then-president of the Senior Executives Association Carol Bonosaro.

Obama, however, has sought to make the federal government more of a model employer where he had more flexibility than in compensation. Cox praised Obama for standing strong against discrimination in the federal workplace, and for being a consistent supporter of collective bargaining rights. And it was during the Obama administration that same-sex spouses of federal employees were granted the same health insurance and retirement benefits as heterosexual spouses. That was a result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision, but still, the administration moved quickly to implement the changes in regulation.

“Those are very, very positive things that we’ve seen in this administration,” Cox said.

So, as the Obama-era draws to a close, here’s a non-comprehensive look at the president’s track record on federal pay and benefits.

    Eric Katz contributed to this story.