Congress is on the verge of recessing until after Labor Day having made only partial progress on key pay and benefits issues. A final determination on a raise is not likely until late in the year although a chance remains of action in September on several benefits-related matters.
The House last week passed an appropriations bill (HR-7668) containing, among other annual spending bills, the general government measure that commonly serves as the vehicle for setting the raise for the following January. The measure is silent on that topic, though, effectively accepting President Trump’s recommendation for a 1 percent raise, which would take effect by default if no number is passed into law by the end of the year.
Presidents typically finalize the default raise figure—technically, the “alternative” raise to a much larger raise that otherwise would be paid by default under pay law—with a late-August message to Congress. However, Trump early this year broke with that tradition and issued that message along with his original proposal.
Having already issued that message, it is unclear whether he could override it and set a different default number with another message by the end of this month, should he be so inclined. In any event, any budget measure passed into law before the end of the year setting a number would override the default raise mechanism.
During floor voting, the House accepted an amendment to prevent the EEOC from carrying out a proposed rule barring the use official time for federal employees—in practice, almost always an employee acting in a union role—from acting as representatives for co-workers in EEO proceedings. The bill also would continue the long-standing moratorium on starting new “Circular A-76” contracting-out studies as well as a prohibition first included last year to bar any further steps toward the administration’s plan to have GSA take over OPM’s operating divisions while moving OPM’s policy-making role into OMB.
The House has now passed 10 of the 12 bills for the fiscal year that starts October 1—the exceptions are the bills for DHS and for Congress itself—but the Senate has not even drafted any at the committee level and Congress expects to work only about four weeks after its return before recessing again through the elections. The most common response to the approach of the fiscal year without spending bills in place has to been to enact a temporary extension, generally at current levels. In this case that most likely would carry until a post-election session.
An October 1 deadline also is ahead on a benefits issue—extending to certain agencies the paid parental leave authority that is set to begin with births, adoptions or foster placements as of that date for most federal employees. The House DoD authorization bill (HR-6395) would extend that authority to those left out—primarily FAA employees, TSA employees except for screeners who already will be eligible, and Title 38 medical personnel.
The Senate has passed its counterpart (S-4049) without similar language. However, there is always pressure to enact the DoD spending measure before the beginning of a fiscal year—especially so in an election year.
Also in the House bill, but not the Senate bill, is language to guarantee that federal employees do not lose annual leave under “use or lose it” restrictions if they are unable to take leave for reasons related to the pandemic.