Jan 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Biden administration raises minimum wage for federal employees to $15

Picture of a poster demanding "fair wage" seen near the White House
A poster demanding a federal $15-per-hour minimum wage seen near the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26, 2021. Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal agencies are being directed to raise the minimum wages for government employees to $15 an hour, according to new guidance from the Office of Personnel Management shared first with Axios.

Why it matters: The guidance will impact almost 70,000 federal employees, most of which work at the Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Veterans Affairs. OPM is directing agencies to implement the new wage by Jan. 30.

  • The largest share of employees, more than 56,000 people, currently paid below $15 work at the DOD.

Catch up fast: During his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order directing OPM — which serves as the chief human resources agency and personnel policy manager for the federal government — to provide a report to the president with recommendations to promote a $15 per hour minimum wage for federal workers.

  • In the report, which was submitted to the White House, OPM officials indicated that the majority of the 2.2 million federal employees are already earning at least $15 an hour.

State of play: In the memorandum issued today, OPM lays out next steps and guidance to all executive branch agencies and departments to increase minimum pay rate for all employees stationed in the U.S. (including its territories and possessions) to $15 per hour "beginning on the first day of the first applicable pay period commencing on or after Jan. 30, 2022."

  • The new guidance excludes the U.S. Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission since they are legally outside of OPM's authority.
  • The guidance will also not affect employees that have an "extended work schedule." OPM said that over the next six months, it will be working to answer these employees' compensation concerns.

By the numbers: Federal employees who will benefit from the Biden administration's $15 per hour minimum pay rate policy include:

  • Around 130 wildland firefighters, 400 plant protection technicians, 3,800 custodial workers and 50,000 DOD employees at military bases around the country, per OPM.

What they're saying: "As the largest employer in the country, how the federal government treats its workforce has real impact," said OPM director Kiran Ahuja.

  • "Raising pay rates across the federal government to a minimum of $15 per hour reflects our appreciation for the federal workforce and our values as a nation."

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated the guidance, saying that USDA employees "deserve to be fairly compensated for their talents and for all the important work they do for our country."

  • "This pay increase is an important step for the civilian men and women who support the military community and their families," said Gilbert Cisneros, Defense Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness.
  • The employees being impacted "include VA food service workers and housekeeping personnel. They are critical front-line employees, central to patient safety and improved outcomes for Veterans in the fight against the continued COVID-19 pandemic," said Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

Between the lines: As the Great Resignation continues, Biden administration officials are looking to fill thousands of expected government tech and cybersecurity jobs.

Don't forget: The move comes as a record number of states and cities will increase their minimum wage rates in 2022, with many exceeding $15, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project.

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