FEDweek

Buyout Boost, Other Issues Still Not Settled

The Senate in passing its version of the annual DoD authorization bill on Monday (HR-2810) did not take up several proposals of importance to federal employees, although some of those issues may be revisited.

Proposals to create a new round of DoD base closings, to increase the buyout maximum government-wide, to restrict use of official time, and numerous other controversial amendments were set aside in order to assure the high-priority measure’s advancement through the Senate. The House earlier approved its own version, setting up a conference that likely will require some time to reach agreements on the wide-ranging bill.

The buyout amount was of the most immediate interest to many employees as agencies face potentially tight budgets and may look to reduce employment. DoD has had authority since last year’s authorization bill passed to offer payments of up to $40,000 rather than the $25,000 that has applied government-wide since buyouts began during the Clinton administration. The House measure would extend the higher amount at DoD beyond its scheduled expiration a year from now, but like the Senate bill it is silent on the Trump administration’s request to allow all agencies to offer the higher amount.

However, because the House bill does at least address buyouts in some way, it’s possible that the upcoming conference will act on the broader request. Barring that, an increase would have to be enacted as a separate bill or attached to some other legislation–both less likely to result in approval than having language in the DoD bill, which is one of the few annual “must-pass” bills.

Of longer-term interest was a plan to allow another round of base closings and realignments, although with provisions designed to address criticisms of prior rounds that resulted in the loss or transfer of tens of thousands of civilian DoD jobs. Amending the DoD bill in the Senate held by far the best prospects of allowing more closings, since both the House and Senate bills explicitly block more closings and the House reinforced that point during its voting by rejecting an amendment to allow them.

Also falling by the wayside were amendments to require more detailed reporting on official time, on the clock time that employees may use on certain union-related duties, and to exclude from retirement benefit calculations any year in which an employee spent at least 80 percent of working hours in that status. The full House and a Senate committee have passed a bill requiring greater reporting, although not addressing the retirement aspect.