With President Trump having made his recommendations, Capitol Hill this week is starting a budget process that will determine agency staffing levels, federal employee compensation and personnel policies.
The first round is focusing on the size of individual agency budgets and agency-specific policy issues, which translate into numbers of jobs and the work those employees will do. That is starting with several of the biggest, DoD and DHS, with the latter also being among the most controversial.
The process calls for Congress to first create a blueprint called a budget resolution. That would be the first opportunity, for example, for policy statements on the administration’s proposals to increase required contributions toward retirement for most federal employees and to decrease the value of retirement benefits in several ways.
The House Republican Study Committee, a group of most GOP House members, recently endorsed a package of similar proposals. However, Democrats in control of that chamber have said they will again oppose those ideas and could use the opportunity to underscore their position.
That also would be the opportunity to draw the contrast between the White House’s recommendation for a 1 percent January 2021 raise and the 3.5 percent favored by leading Democrats on civil service issues. In an unusual move, President Trump already has issued a message to Congress stating that he would pay a 1 percent raise by default if no agreement is reached by the end of the year. That type of message typically does not come until late August.
However, the budget resolution step has broken down often in recent years, with Congress moving straight to writing appropriations bills that fund agencies and that also contain policy decisions by preventing spending on certain initiatives.
That happened last year when Congress denied funding for the administration’s proposal to send OPM’s operating divisions to GSA and its policy functions to OMB. The administration again has asked for money to carry out that breakup but Congress seems unlikely to grant it pending the results of a study ordered last year: Plan to Breakup OPM Shelved, Possibly for Good.
Also on the horizon are the potential next steps in the dispute over the administration’s executive orders on bargaining and disciplinary matters.
Rules to carry out key parts of those orders are to be issued soon and while issuing rules is a matter for the administration, Congress could move to block compliance by restricting agencies from spending money to carry them out.
The recent presidential memo allowing DoD to further restrict bargaining on security grounds, and a legislative request to have newly issued rules override existing contracts, also could become part of that mix.
One issue on which the two sides are in some agreement involves the paid parental leave authority for federal employees—12 weeks within 12 months to be effective for a birth, adoption or foster placement after September 30—enacted late last year.
Both favor extending that benefit to categories of employees inadvertently left out of that law, but the White House wants to meanwhile impose certain restrictions.
For example, it would allow the leave to be used only after such an event, rather than either before or after as is currently allowed for the unpaid parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.