Fedweek

Congress has made little headway in the month since reaching an agreement on overall government spending levels, once again coming up on a deadline—this time March 23—to keep agencies funded and prevent another partial government shutdown.

That agreement ended the second brief shutdown of the current fiscal year, but did not include specific decisions for the rest of the fiscal year that is now nearly half over. Instead, it left that chore up to appropriators, who so far have not produced such a plan.

Most likely, the end result will be a wrapup bill carrying agencies through September 30. Members of Congress typically try to attach policy provisions to “must-pass” bills, especially since it likely will be the last budget measure to be enacted at least until the autumn. Already there are indications that some of those add-ons will address controversial political and social issues. Another short-term extension—what would be the sixth of fiscal 2018—can’t be ruled out.

Meanwhile, the budget cycle for the fiscal year beginning in October has begun, with the administration having proposed a budget that among other things calls for no general federal employee raise; lengthening the waiting periods between in-grade raises; establishing a $1 billion fund for performance-based payouts; increasing the required contributions toward retirement by FERS employees; basing annuities of future retirees on a high-five salary average; and reducing the value of retiree COLAs, among other provisions.

So far those ideas—most of them repeats from the past—have not received attention in the form of hearings or congressional studies. The most likely vehicle for Congress to endorse them, if it chooses to, would be in a budget “resolution” that is supposed to be produced in April and act as a guideline for specific appropriations decisions to follow.

The House last year passed such a plan, which would have ordered the committees that oversee federal employee compensation to produce savings and suggesting similar ideas. Those provisions later were dropped, however.

The recent budget agreement could again result in Congress not passing a budget outline. While the House might produce a plan similar to last year’s, the Senate has signaled that it may not even write a counterpart, instead going straight to writing appropriations bills based on the already agreed-to spending levels. That would leave those proposals without the force of an approved plan behind them, lowering their chances of enactment.