The US government shutdown means Trump’s cabinet is getting raises

Not carrying their share of the load.
Not carrying their share of the load.
Image: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Exactly one week after Donald Trump signed an executive order freezing the pay of 2.1 million federal civilian workers, hundreds of high-level Trump appointees, including members of his own cabinet, are set to get raises.

The raises, which amount to roughly $10,000 per year, will go into effect tomorrow (Jan. 5), barring new legislation to stop them, according to guidelines issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The members of Trump’s cabinet, who are worth a combined $4.3 billion, will see their annual pay go from from $199,700 to $210,700, courtesy of the US taxpayer. Deputy secretaries will go from $179,700 to $189,600 per year. Vice president Mike Pence’s salary will also increase, from $230,700 to $243,500. (Members of the Senate and the House, who are still getting paid during the shutdown, will not enjoy a bump in pay.)

The raises look to be “an unintended consequence of the shutdown,” in which approximately 800,000 US government workers have been furloughed, said the Washington Post. When federal funding lapsed on Dec. 21, an existing pay freeze for government employees also expired. The law that limits pay for senior federal executives will expire tomorrow, and will be reflected in some paychecks distributed next week.

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The raises are expected to cost taxpayers an estimated $300 million over 10 years. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“Trump’s 10% pay raise to his political cronies drives home the self-dealing nature of the Trump administration,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at DC watchdog group Public Citizen, told Quartz. “Not only has Trump shut down the federal government, denying federal workers their living wages, he also has refused to grant the general federal workforce any pay raise in the coming year—all in the name of keeping government spending frugal.”

In Rose Garden remarks today, Trump said he “might consider” asking his cabinet to forgo their raises until after the shutdown ends. However, the raises will be automatic without congressional action. The House and Senate are adjourned until Monday.

On his very first day in office, Trump signed a federal hiring freeze, and in August he said he would block an expected 2.1% pay raise for federal workers. However, Trump’s own spending continues apace. As Quartz has reported, the Secret Service is spending nearly $100,000 on tents, lights, and generators for use this winter at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club, and is on track to rack up almost $400,000 in golf cart rentals since Trump took office.

Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO), called the raises “horrible and demoralizing,” and said they will almost certainly lead to longer-term problems beyond the simple fact that many rank-and-file federal employees are struggling to get by while their jobs are on hold.

One example: Education secretary Betsy DeVos, who has an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion will be getting paid 10% more in 2019; the physicians, dentists, and chiropractors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs will earn the same as they did last year.

“The way these raises are being done is a poor approach to a real issue that can affect government performance and government’s ability to attract talent,” Schwellenbach told Quartz. “A broader examination of pay and benefits in the federal government is warranted, but it’s clear that many federal employees are underpaid, especially those with advanced degrees in technical and scientific areas, compared to their peers in the private sector.”

Officials from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, including OPM director Margaret Weichert, who was appointed by Trump in October, discussed the upcoming raises in a conference call Dec. 31. Some were “worried about the public perception of the raises and discussed how to respond to questions about them,” one participant told the Washington Post.

It’s definitely not a good look, said Brett Bruen, a former US diplomat and director of global engagement in the Obama White House. The pay hike “reflects a broader mismanagement of the government under president Trump,” he said.

“Few people in senior positions are paying attention to the details and American taxpayers are paying the price,” Bruen told Quartz. “There is no strategy, no structure, no scenario planning. Most of the government oscillates between uncertainty and upheaval, as cabinet secretaries precariously await instructions to be tweeted out.”