Fedweek

OMB determined the order could have affected tens of thousands of career federal employees now in the competitive service. Image: photo.ua/Shutterstock.com

In passing its version of the annual DoD authorization bill (HR-7900) the House attached a number of provisions affecting the federal workplace including language to bar a future move to shift into the excepted service career federal employees involved in policy matters and confidential advice.

The language is aimed at preventing a repeat of an executive order that President Trump issued in October 2020 that essentially would have turned such positions into politically appointive positions by removing appeal and union representation rights and ending the requirement for competition in filling those positions. President Biden revoked that order as one of his first actions.

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No positions were converted in the several months the Trump order was in effect but several agencies had worked to identify such positions — OMB reportedly determined that nearly its entire workforce would be affected — and there were projections it could have affected tens of thousands of career federal employees now in the competitive service.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee last year passed on a party-line vote a bill to put into law a ban against such a policy; Democrats argued that a provision in law was needed since the Biden order revoking the Trump order could itself be revoked by a future administration. However, that bill did not advance to a House floor vote and the issue has been dormant since then except for the committee’s rejection of a recent bid by Republicans to revive Schedule F as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

The House vote on the amendment also fell largely along party lines although five Republicans did join all Democrats voting in passing it.

By attaching the language to the DoD bill—which is considered an annual “must-pass” measure—sponsors of the ban in effect will force Congress to act on the issue. That also was the motivation behind the addition of several other provisions that had made partial progress that would:

* provide all TSA employees with the same bargaining and rights applying to federal employees in general and move them into the GS salary system.

* require the National Personnel Records Center to submit a plan within 60 days for eliminating its backlog of veteran records requests and authorize $60 million for NARA to digitize records and establish effective records retrieval infrastructure.

The bill as it came up for floor voting already contained a number of more minor personnel provisions, some affecting only DoD employees and others applying government-wide, along with language to strengthen powers of agency inspectors general.

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The Senate has drafted a counterpart bill that does not have comparable provisions. Unless they are added during floor voting there—whose scheduling currently is uncertain—those differences would have to be resolved in a later House-Senate conference.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook