With the Biden administration having provided only an outline of a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, much of the recent attention in Congress to federal employee issues is focusing on family leave and ethics-related matters.
There has been no indication of when the administration will release the type of full budget proposal that addresses issues such as the pay raise for the following year and potential changes in benefits and workplace policies. While a delay is standard following a party shift in the White House, already there is speculation that the government will approach the October 1 start of the new fiscal year with few or none of the regular spending bills having passed.
Similarly, the administration hasn’t issued a promised update to guidance on telework and other office policies in light of the increase in vaccinations in the federal workforce and the continued general loosening of pandemic-related restrictions. That guidance likely will draw significant attention from members of Congress who have been calling on agencies to restore more in-person service.
Meanwhile, groundwork is being laid toward an expansion of paid leave that would benefit federal employees among most other workers nationwide, as recently proposed by the White House. A draft plan before the House Ways and Means Committee would grant paid leave of up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period for purposes such as those currently allowing for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Federal employees already have an entitlement to paid leave for parental purposes as defined by that law but leave for other purposes, such as other personal or family medical conditions, remains unpaid. Separate legislation has been offered to broaden the federal employee entitlement but a broader bill might offer the best prospects for enactment.
However, a mandate for paid leave for the private sector remains politically contentious, including disputes over potential subsidies to employers for providing such leave. Also, the broad infrastructure bill to which the nationwide leave provisions most likely would be attached is itself controversial.
The Senate also has begun work on a wide-ranging bill focusing mainly on political campaigns, fundraising and voting practices that includes some federal workplace ethics provisions. The bill (S-1) already has been revised from its originally introduced version and numerous other amendments are expected as the measure is moved ahead for floor voting.
Provisions in the most current version include tighter conflict of interest restrictions for matters potentially affecting the interests of a former employer and possible stiffer penalties; and adding new prohibitions against federal contracting officers working for government contractors within two years after leaving federal employment.