Fedweek

The House and Senate have passed one key annual bill on federal employee pay and benefits issues while the House expects to vote soon on another.

Both chambers have now approved separate versions (S-4049 and HR-6395) of the annual DoD authorization bill, setting the stage for possible enactment into law before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year and a planned congressional recess through the elections around the same time.

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The House version includes a provision to include certain agencies and categories of employees who were left out of the paid parental leave provision enacted in the counterpart bill late last year. That provision will change from unpaid to paid the 12 weeks of leave available in a 12 month period on the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

Those left out of that authority, which will be effective as of those events on October 1 or later, include most employees not under the Title 5 body of civil service law, primarily FAA employees, TSA employees other than screeners (who were specifically included in last year’s law) and Title 38 personnel (generally VA employees in medical fields, who the VA has said it will make eligible regardless of whether the law is changed).

The White House has not objected to that amendment although it has objected to several other provisions in the House bill, including one to limit DoD’s discretion to ban categories of employees from union representation on national security grounds, and one to essentially make all blue-collar employees in a GS locality eligible for the GS raise there even if they are under a lower-paid locality under the wage grade system. The measure also would strengthen federal employees’ protections against discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing.

During voting on the bill, the House accepted an amendment to exempt employees involved in frontline positions from limits on how much annual leave can be carried from one year to the next—in most cases, 240 hours. The amendment would put into law and broaden a similar exemption policy that OPM recently said it would put in place through regulations. Current policy is that such exceptions can be made only on a case by case basis and only if the leave had been scheduled in advance.

Both that bill and the Senate version meanwhile make several changes to hiring and compensation policies for limited numbers of occupations and in limited situations.

The House meanwhile is expected to vote, as part of a broader package, on the general government appropriations bill (HR-7668). That measure is silent on the issue of a January 2021 federal pay raise, effectively endorsing the 1 percent that President Trump included in his budget proposal earlier this year—and which he said at the same time he would set as the default raise if no figure is legislated by the end of the year.

Federal employee organizations and some Democrats in Congress continue to advocate for a 3 percent raise in the name of pay parity with military personnel—who are in line to receive that amount, also what Trump proposed—but the best chance to include a larger number may already have passed as the bill moved through the committee level.

The measure also notably would extend language barring further moves by the administration to have the GSA take over most of OPM, leaving the remainder as a policy office under OMB.

While Congress must enact some type of spending measure ahead of the October 1 start of the new fiscal year, that most likely will take the form of a temporary extension until after the elections, rather than enactment of appropriations bills.

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