Fedweek

Congress has returned for a post-election session that will have to take up much of the business it has left unfinished, including continuing funding authority for federal agencies beyond the December 11 expiration of a stopgap measure.

It’s widely expected that another catchall measure tying most or all of them together will be enacted. It’s currently unknown whether that would continue through the rest of the fiscal year that started October 1 or would last only until sometime into early next year.

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Complicating matters will be the suggestion by Senate Republican leaders to tie into that measure a further pandemic relief bill. Congress has not enacted one since the spring, when it passed several in quick succession; the House then passed a major bill in May but the Senate set that aside and negotiations between the White House and the House ultimately failed over the cost and content of such a bill.

Among numerous other provisions, the House has been seeking several improvements in benefits for front-line workers, some of which would apply to federal employees in such positions; they also have been pushing for restrictions against recalling teleworking employees to their regular worksites until certain standards have been met.

Action on a budget extension, a relief bill, or the two in combination also would provide an opportunity for Democrats to target several Trump administration policies, such as the recent executive order to move tens of thousands or more jobs involved with policy or confidential advice to senior agency leaders into the excepted service. While the current administration would oppose any bid to block that change, a Biden administration is expected to cancel the underlying order.

Also still on the congressional plate is the annual defense authorization bill, the House version of which contains several provisions affecting federal employees government-wide. Among them is language to fill in the gaps left in last year’s measure creating the paid parental leave authority; expand protections against retaliation and discrimination; and limit DoD’s discretion to exclude certain categories of employees from union representation—a discretion the White House moved earlier this year to expand.

Congress plans to recess again the week of Thanksgiving then return and remain in session until finishing its work for the year—tentatively December 11, but potentially longer.

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