The 2021 federal pay drama is over, so now what?

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So it’s done.

President Donald Trump made a 1% across-the-board federal pay raise official for most civilian employees in 2021.

After a few months of uncertainty, the president answered the federal pay question with relatively little fanfare.

Many of you, myself included, wondered whether there might be just a little drama.

After all, Congress didn’t legislate a specific federal pay raise for General Schedule employees in the 2021 omnibus spending package. In fact, lawmakers didn’t say anything at all, leaving it up to the president to move forward with his own proposal for federal pay.

Congress’ silence stoked some fears that Trump might come back and order a pay freeze at the last minute. After all, presidents have changed their minds when it comes to federal pay, right?

But it didn’t happen. And while there is precedent for administrations to make last-minute changes to federal pay, moving from a pay raise to a pay freeze — as far as we know — hasn’t happened in recent memory.

And luckily for feds, Trump submitted his formal federal pay plan to Congress back in February, way earlier than most presidents have done in recent years. That plan, which he submitted before the pandemic lockdowns or the economic downturn, called for a 1% across-the-board pay raise for most civilian employees.

The plan from February stuck.

So sure, maybe a 1% pay bump isn’t much. But as my colleague Mike Causey pointed out, it’s better than nothing.

The executive order implementing the raises came late in the evening on New Years Eve, on the last possible day the president could have signed the EO and made pay adjustments official for the new year.

For those of us tasked with watching, waiting and then writing about the pay executive order, the timing of its release was a fitting end to 2020.

So what’s next?

Like most years, the 1% pay bump went into effect Jan. 1. The raise will show up in the first paycheck of the year, on or around Jan. 8 for most feds.

Unlike recent years, there are no locality pay adjustments this year, meaning rates are frozen at 2020 levels. The Office of Personnel Management posted the 2021 pay tables here, so you can find your locality pay area, your spot on the General Schedule and your salary for the year.

Of course, the president’s payroll tax deferral program, which went into effect last September and ended in December, does throw in wrench into things.

Yes, feds who had their Social Security taxes deferred in recent months will have to pay it all back throughout the course of 2021. Like usual, feds will pay 6.2% of their gross biweekly income toward Social Security, plus a little extra to account for 2020’s “tax holiday.”

We’re still collecting information about the repayment plan, but at least one federal payroll provider has offered up some details about how it will work.

Military members and civilian employees who receive their paychecks through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, for example, will repay the deferred amount through their wages over the course of 24 installments starting Jan. 16 and ending Dec. 4.

DFAS didn’t explain how much exactly feds will repay over the course of those 24 installments, but you can find a few more details here.

Most of us happily said goodbye to 2020 a few days ago without looking back. But like or not, feds will experience the impacts of 2020 for a little while longer.

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