Capping off a tumultuous week in a continuing confrontation with federal workers, President Trump announced Thursday that he was invoking emergency authority to cancel pay increases scheduled for next year.
"We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets can not sustain such increases", Trump wrote in a letter to members of Congress.
"President Trump's plan to freeze wages for these patriotic workers next year ignores the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade", American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.
According to a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the tax reform law touted by Trump and passed by the GOP will add $1.9 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, including reduced revenues and debt service payments.
Under federal law, federal employees get cost-of-living raises every new year - in addition to specific increases in high-cost cities called "locality pay" - unless the president determines those raises would be "inappropriate".
Pay for military personnel will not be affected by Trump's decree; instead, United States troops are due a 2.6% pay increase next year.
Trump said he was nixing a 2.1 percent across-the-board raise for most workers as well as separate locality pay increases averaging 25.7 percent. And so far, the administration has not threatened to veto the spending bill if it includes a pay raise. That means the law is adding about $190 billion a year to the deficit. In that process, the President also reserves the right to step in and come up with his own directive as to how much more federal workers deserve in pay.
"In light of our nation's fiscal situation, federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets", Trump wrote.
Last week, a federal judge struck down key provisions of three executive orders the president had signed in May making it easier to fire federal workers and limiting the power of their unions. A federal judge invalidated numerous provisions in those executive orders on Saturday.
Why it might not matter: Congress could still override Trump's decision.
"Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning almost 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade", said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers. "I can think of nothing more hypocritical or disingenuous than to turn around and throw hardworking federal employees under the bus on the pretext of fiscal responsibility".
The Trump administration proposed $143.5 billion in cuts to federal employee compensation in May, including substantial decreases in retirement funding.
While the Washington area contains the largest concentration of federal workers, only 1-in-6 civilian employees of the government live in the region. States Trump won in 2016 - including Florida, Pennsylvania and OH - also rank high on the list of states where federal employees work.