President Biden has signed a spending bill carrying the government through September 30, overall boosting federal agency budgets after nearly six months of operating on a series of temporary measures that had generally been capped at fiscal 2021 levels.
HR-2471 contains funding for the regular appropriations bills through September 30, most of which had progressed through the House although not the Senate. Among them is the measure of the most direct impact on federal employees and the federal workplace, the general government measure.
That section of the bill continues several long-standing policies, including a ban on starting new “Circular A-76” contracting-out studies and a ban on training not directly related to job duties. However, it drops language initially included by the House that would have ended the general ban on abortion coverage in FEHB plans.
The bill also requires OPM to: make recommendations for “remote work post-pandemic” in its annual telework report; develop a strategy for boosting the government’s cadre of employees in the STEM fields; study the VA’s streamlined hiring practices and make recommendations for applying them government-wide; and increase the number of interns working for federal agencies and report on how existing programs can be improved.
The bill also:
* adds funding for the IRS, enabling it to hire more employees to deal with backlogs, beginning with a planned hiring of 5,000 positions in its service processing centers in Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Ogden, Utah.
* creates a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health within the National Institutes of Health that would operate outside of most civil service rules.
* requires OMB to report to Congress “on how the federal government can reduce its office space requirements based on lessons learned from the use of telework during the pandemic.”
* incorporates language of a bill requiring better reporting of cybersecurity incidents and other cyber attacks to DHS.
* creates an independent medical advisory board and setting standards for testing and benefits for “Havana Syndrome,” serious but unexplained health problems that have been experienced by many federal employees stationed overseas.
The Senate vote Thursday quickly followed House approval Wednesday of the bill; in the process the Senate rejected several amendments sponsored by Republicans including one to bar spending to enforce Coronavirus vaccine mandates such as the one for federal employees that currently is on hold due to a court order.