Fedweek

Although there are more than two calendar months remaining before the start of the government’s new fiscal year October 1, working time for Congress to act on agency funding and other issues of importance to federal employees already is running short.

Including plans for the traditional August recess until after Labor Day, only 18 days for floor voting are scheduled before that deadline and neither chamber has brought even one of the 12 regular spending bills to a vote. As usual, the House has taken the first steps, clearing several through the committee level last month with several more likely in the next few weeks. The Senate has not advanced past the hearing stage.

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A typical response with budgeting business still unfinished by September 30 is to enact a temporary extension, commonly of several months—which in turn commonly has been extended one or more times until enactment of a final measure or measures. Already there is talk on Capitol Hill of such a move but developments on spending bills so far have raised the prospect of political divisions that could endanger such an extension.

For example, on the key bill for the federal workforce, the general government appropriations, Democrats have moved to drop a long-standing general ban on abortion coverage in the FEHB program. Republicans have sought, unsuccessfully so far, to reinstate the ban—which has been in similar bills for many years—and have hinted that the issue might prevent enactment of a funding extension.

That bill also typically determines the following year’s federal raise, either directly by setting a number or indirectly by allowing the White House’s recommendation to take effect by default. So far Congress has followed the latter course for 2022, which would yield a 2.7 percent raise, although efforts to boost that number to 3.2 continue.

Budgetary brinksmanship is common and a way around it typically is found, at least temporarily. However, there have been notable exceptions, including what turned into a record-setting partial shutdown in late 2018-early 2019.

Another key measure, the annual DoD authorization, also is behind the typical schedule with both the House and Senate not expecting to begin writing it until late this month. That bill often becomes the vehicle for federal workplace provisions not only at DoD but also government-wide because it is considered a “must-pass.” That could be done this year, for example, with a bid to expand federal employee paid leave provisions.

That bill also runs on a fiscal year cycle and there is pressure in Congress to complete it by October 1. However, that often slips to late in the year, as well.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook

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