Fedweek

The House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2020 DoD budget bill that congressional leaders hope to enact before the end of the month have some provisions in common affecting federal employees but also numerous differences—some of them applying only at DoD but others applying government-wide.

While the major difference involves granting federal employees paid leave for purposes covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act that currently allow for unpaid leave, the House version (HR-2500), but not the Senate version (S-1790), further would:

* return the standard probationary period at DoD to the one year applying at most agencies from the two years in effect at that department since a 2015 change in law;

* order a study that could lay the groundwork for repealing another policy applying only at DoD under that same law, elevating performance to the top of the RIF retention factors;

* generally bar agencies from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record as an initial screen—a so-called “ban the box”—with exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history information is required by law (for other positions, such questions still could be asked later in the process); and

* allow the MSPB to stay a personnel action, at the request of the Office of Special Counsel, as an alleged retaliation against a whistleblower even when the merit board lacks a quorum, as it has since early 2017.

Both versions contain routine extensions of several special benefits policies applying to federal employees working in areas of active military operations as well as several provisions to improve recruitment and retention in a limited number of specialized or high-demand positions.

Both further would address a lingering issue caused by the 2017 tax law which generally made relocation reimbursements taxable as income. The GSA later authorized agencies to reimburse employees for that extra tax burden but that policy did not apply to relocation expenses for newly hired employees, employees returning home from overseas assignments in order to retire or otherwise separate from service, and “last move home” relocations for SES members poised to retire. The bill language would extend the tax reimbursement to those situations.

However, neither measure addresses the administration’s proposal to increase the maximum buyout payment at all agencies to the $40,000 allowed at DoD. That was a government-wide proposal but including it in the DoD authorization—where it fell just short of enactment last year—was considered its best prospect for passage.