Today the President sent a letter to the Speaker of the House setting alternative plans for federal civilian employee pay raises at 1% across the board, with a potential for a 1.6% increase given locality pay adjustments. How is a 1% increase an effective pay cut you ask? Because once again this year, federal health insurance premiums paid be federal employees are set to rise higher than the cost of living adjustment the President and Congress are granting.
The Washington Post reported in June 2016,Federal pay rates increased 1%, 1%, 1.3% and 1.6% over the last four years. In 2016, BC/BS federal family rates increased 11.6%. Government Executive (govexec.com) put the average health insurance increase at 7.4% for the average fed in 2016 according to a Sept. 29, 2015 article. While specific premium increases have not been announced for the next federal open season (November 2016), with BCBS asking for 60% increases in premium cost for Obamacare markets feds should brace themselves for another double digit increase this year.
Why does this matter? Because federal jobs, particularly for professions like engineering, lawyers and doctors, are severely underpaid compared to their private sector counterparts. Starting first year attorney salaries in Washington DC, recently rose to $185,000 per year. The starting federal attorney in Washington DC as a GS-11 is $64,650.
And more importantly, the cost of living in the Washington region is one of the top three in terms of housing prices nationally. Montgomery County, Maryland increased property taxes by 9% this year…adding insult to injury to federal employees already struggling to get by.
Annual federal pay raises that fail to match the rise in federal health insurance premiums aren’t pay raises. Federal employees get kicked around by Congress and the public far too often. The least we can do is compensate them at a level that their professionalism and professions deserve.