Under pressure, NSF scraps plan to limit staff raises

By Robin Bravender | 02/01/2023 04:16 PM EST

The National Science Foundation ditched the proposal after an employee backlash and a testy all-staff meeting.

Sethuraman Panchanathan.

National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan relented on plans to limit pay raises well below what President Joe Biden authorized for most federal civilian employees. Panchanathan is pictured on Capitol Hill on April 13, 2021. Francis Chung/E&E News

The leaders of the National Science Foundation have scrapped a plan to limit pay raises for some staffers after the proposal prompted outrage among employees and calls for the agency’s leadership to resign.

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan and Chief Operating Officer Karen Marrongelle told staff in an email Wednesday afternoon that the agency will “NOT be implementing the proposal that prematurely went to staff last week.”

That message followed a staff revolt over an NSF plan to give some professional scientists at the agency a 1 percent pay increase this year after President Joe Biden authorized a 4.6 percent average pay raise for most federal civilian employees.


E&E News reported earlier Wednesday that furious NSF staff had booed agency leadership and called on managers to resign during a contentious town hall gathering held Tuesday. An NSF union leader called the meeting a “shit show” (Greenwire, Feb. 1).

All eligible agency staff, the Wednesday email said, “will receive the full 4.1% increase plus any appropriate locality pay, which totals 4.6% total for the D.C. area.”

NSF leaders had proposed limiting the raises of 334 staffers who are paid on an “administratively determined” pay scale, putting them outside the “general schedule” pay scale that applies to most of the federal workforce. The affected staff members are not junior staffers, said an agency spokesperson, but rather employees who earn $198,690 or more annually.

The agency is attempting to ensure that there is equity among salaries within the agency, said an NSF spokesperson. General schedule and senior executive service pay is capped under the law, while the “administratively determined” salaries are not subject to a cap.

“As we look to address equity issues agency-wide, an important aspect is the pay differentiation between the AD, SES, and GS pay scales which must be addressed,” the NSF leaders said in their email. “To be clear, we will use a transparent process to develop a strategy to address this equity challenge as well as some of the other topics that were raised at the listening session yesterday.”