Fedweek

Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee are seeking to repeal several special personnel authorities for the Defense Department enacted in recent years involving reduction in force retention rights and probationary periods.

One change, which took effect in 2015, expanded to two years the standard probationary period for employees hired by DoD, with the exception of those who already had completed a shorter probationary period at another agency. The standard period elsewhere is one year except for certain positions in the excepted service where the standard effectively is two years.

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The other, which took effect in 2017, made an employee’s last two performance ratings the first determining factor for RIF retention at DoD, followed by type of appointment (permanent vs. non-permanent), ratings on specific performance standards, veterans preference and length of service. Elsewhere length of service is the second factor after type of appointment, followed by veterans preference and performance ratings.

Both were enacted at the initiative of Republicans who at the time controlled that committee in the name of putting more emphasis on performance in federal employment decisions. The Trump administration favored applying both to the federal workforce in general.

However, Congress never acted on proposals to extend the probationary period and President Biden has revoked a Trump executive order to make performance the first RIF retention factor at other agencies. In the latter case, rules were proposed late last year but were not finalized and have been suspended pending their formal withdrawal.

The committee is set to act this week on a “chairman’s mark” of the fiscal 2022 DoD authorization bill to return DoD to standard policies in each area. No explanation was given but Democrats have opposed each since they first came under consideration.

The bill also would strengthen the prohibition against managing civilian personnel according to a constraint or limitation on man-years, end strength, or full-time equivalent positions and would prohibit the use of term or temporary hiring authorities for continuing functions.

Those policy changes would be in addition to several largely routine provisions regarding civilian DoD employees when the bill passed through the subcommittee level, such as extending several long-standing special pay provisions for employees working in areas of military operations.

The Senate Armed Service Committee already has passed its version of the bill, also including the routine provisions but not addressing the other policies contained in the House bill. Both chambers are expected to bring their bills to floor voting soon after Congress reconvenes in two weeks, with differences to be worked out in a conference.

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