Fedweek

People hold signs, as several hundred anti-mandate demonstrators rally outside the Capitol during a special legislative session considering bills targeting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida Republicans continued Tuesday to advance legislation to blunt coronavirus vaccine mandates in businesses as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis' push to combat White House virus rules.

An amendment to block the Coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees could be offered in the Senate when it takes up the DoD authorization bill (HR-4350) as soon as next week.

Under Senate rules it’s not guaranteed that such an amendment will even reach a vote—much less become law over White House objections. However, such a move would amount to the best opportunity in Congress for opponents of the mandate, since bills they have offered have not progressed toward enactment through the regular process.

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The DoD authorization is one of the few “must-pass” annual bills and commonly is used as the host for a range of policies affecting not just DoD employees but the entire federal workforce.

Many congressional Republicans, individually and in groups, have argued that the mandate is unconstitutional and that the standards for exceptions are too limiting. They also have raised concerns about the impact on agency operations if unvaccinated employees who are denied exceptions resign, retire or are fired. Administration officials argue that the policies are within legal bounds and have downplayed a potential impact on agency operations.

The House already has passed its version of the defense bill and a conference will be needed to reconcile differences.

The Senate measure contains language not in the House version to reauthorize through fiscal 2025 the department’s discretion to pay buyouts in downsizing or reorganizations of up to $40,000 rather than the $25,000 maximum elsewhere. The policy expired September 30.

The House version meanwhile would end the general two-year probationary period in effect at DoD for newly hired employees and return the department instead to the general policy in effect elsewhere of one year. It also would repeal another DoD-only policy making performance ratings the top retention factor in RIFs after the type of appointment (permanent vs. temporary or term); the Senate version would require only that performance be among the factors considered.

Both would continue the practice of annually extending special pay authorities for DoD employees working overseas in support of military operations.

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