Congress returns next week from a two-week recess to start what traditionally is a time in which several bills affecting federal pay, benefits and workplace policies start to take shape.
Apart from week-long breaks around the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays, Congress will be continuously in session until its August recess, with priority items including writing the budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 and the annual defense authorization bill. Both are already somewhat behind the usual schedule, since the White House budget proposal, which kicks off the process, was delayed by about a month due to the partial government shutdown over late December-late January.
That budget proposal seeks no federal pay raise for January 2020 and would require most employees to pay more toward their retirement benefits while also lessening the value of those benefits. The Senate Budget Committee has passed a blueprint measure that assumes those changes will occur but the full Senate has not voted on it and in any case the House does not plan to produce a counterpart, shifting the focus to writing appropriations bills.
One of those, the financial services/general government bill, typically is the vehicle for Congress to take a position regarding the following year’s raise. House Democratic leaders on civil service issues have been pushing for a 3.6 percent raise with no changes to retirement contributions or benefit cuts. Drafting that bill will be their opportunity to put those positions in writing.
Those same leaders further have proposed benefit improvements including repealing the higher contributions already required of more recently hired employees and boosting FERS retirement COLAs to match the policies for CSRS retirees.
The DoD authorization bill commonly makes changes to personnel policies not only in DoD but government-wide. In recent years it has carried mostly minor changes, such as special hiring authorities for high-demand positions, but it could be the vehicle for raising the buyout maximum government-wide to the $40,000 applying at DoD from the $25,000 applying elsewhere. The White House has again proposed that boost; while the Senate last year included it in its version of the defense bill, the provision was dropped in a conference with the House due to cost concerns raised by the then-Republican leadership there.