Biden is marking the 15th anniversary of landmark pay equity law with steps to help federal workers

President Joe Biden speaks during an event on the campus of George Mason University in Manassas, Va., on Jan. 23, 2024.

Susan Walsh / Susan Walsh

The Biden administration is marking Monday’s 15th anniversary of a landmark federal pay equity law with new action to help close gaps in pay for federal employees and employees of federal contractors.

Despite progress since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law in January 2009, President Joe Biden said women who work outside the home are still paid an average of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and that the pay disparities are greater for many women of color.

The Democratic president said the “common-sense” steps announced Monday “will help pay millions of workers fairly, close gender and racial wage gaps and yield tangible benefits for the federal government and federal contractors.”

The Office of Personnel Management is issuing a final rule to bar the government from considering a person’s current or past pay when determining their salary for federal employment. Administration officials said this step will help limit pay discrimination and ensure compensation is based on an applicant’s skills, experience and expertise.

A similar proposal will offer protections to those employed by federal contractors.

The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is issuing a proposal to prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from seeking and considering information about a job applicant’s compensation history when hiring or setting pay for anyone who works on a government contract.

The proposal also requires contractors and subcontractors to disclose salary ranges in job postings.

Administration officials said the proposal would help federal contractors recruit, diversify and retain talent, improve job satisfaction and performance and reduce turnover.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill then-President Barack Obama signed into law after taking office in 2009. Biden was vice president.

Ledbetter’s discovery that she was earning less than her male counterparts for doing the same job at a Goodyear plant led to a Supreme Court lawsuit and eventually the legislation bearing her name.

Shalanda Young, director of the White House budget office, said the law created important protections against pay discrimination and helped close persistent gender and racial wage gaps.

“But we still have more work to do,” she told reporters on a conference call arranged by the White House to preview the announcements.

Kiran Ahuja, director of the federal personnel office, said on the same call that the government “does a pretty decent job” on wages compared with the private sector.

In 2022, the federal government had a 5.6% pay gap compared with 16% nationwide. The difference in pay in the most senior ranks of the federal government is below 1%, Ahuja said.

“The federal government is proud of this progress we’ve made,” she said. “But we also realize that any gap is unacceptable.”

The National Partnership for Women and Families said the 84 cents that women earn for every dollar paid to a man results in a gap of $9,990, a sum that could help a working woman pay for approximately 64 weeks of food, seven months of mortgage and utility payments, about nine months of rent or more than a year of additional child care.