With Congress finally having set agency budgets for the current fiscal year — after bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown numerous times and over that brink twice — its focus now shifts to the budget for the fiscal year starting in October, and the administration’s proposals regarding federal pay and benefits.
The wrap-up budget measure reflected increases in funding from a February agreement and results in notable boosts in funding—some of which could translate into higher employment levels—at agencies including the IRS, Census Bureau, EEOC and Customs and Border Protection.
Also included was language that could slow or even block reorganization plans at numerous agencies by requiring additional review first and/or by limiting the funds available to carry them out.
It also rejected a proposal to close nearly two dozen small agencies or subcomponents of larger agencies.
It meanwhile continues several long-standing policy provisions including: a ban on starting new “Circular A-76” contracting out studies; requirements that FEHB plans generally must cover prescription contraceptives but that they generally must not cover abortions; and a ban on “lifestyle” and other training that is not related to an employee’s official duties.
The measure does not approve the administration’s proposal to boost the maximum buyout payment government-wide from the standard $25,000 to the $40,000 allowed at the Defense Department.
That will be among the issues to be decided in the new budget cycle, along with repeats of prior White House proposals to require FERS employees to pay more toward retirement; repeal the “special retirement supplement” for future FERS retirees; base annuities of future retirees under both FERS and CSRS on a high-five salary figure rather than high-three; reduce inflation protection of all future retirement payments; and more.
The new budget cycle also will be the opportunity for Congress to take a position on federal pay. In recent years it has avoided the issue, allowing the White House’s recommended raises of around 1-2 percent to take effect by default. For 2019, the White House has recommended no raise, potentially forcing Congress to formally take a position for the first time in years. Some Democrats have proposed 3 percent and unlike in prior years there is no risk in forcing a vote that might result in a raise lower than the default figure.
Also on the plate for Congress are administration proposals for lengthening by one year each the waiting periods for GS within-grade raises; creating a $1 billion central fund to reward top performers and to recruit and retain for high-demand jobs; combining annual and sick leave into one form of leave called paid time off; and varying the government’s contributions toward FEHB according to a plan’s quality ratings.