Fedweek

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The House has scheduled votes on a long-running bill to end the special personnel policies applying to TSA screeners and a more recently arising one to expand workers’ compensation benefits for federal firefighters.

The TSA bill, HR-903, would revoke policies that have been in place since that agency was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that sponsors at the time said were needed to make the TSA more flexible in responding to changing threats. Those policies among other things restricted certain employee rights and created separate TSA-only pay scales and performance evaluation systems.

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However, unions have long asserted that those policies result in high turnover and low employee satisfaction levels that have annually put the TSA near the bottom in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the Best Places to Work in Government rankings. The measure further would protect the affected employees against loss of pay and leave in the transition and require the parent DHS to consult with unions in the transition.

The bill comes before the House nearly a year after it passed the committee level and the TSA announced that it would make many similar changes administratively but enactment of the bill—which passed the House but not the Senate in the prior Congress—would give those changes the force of law. In the prior Congress the House passed similar language twice—once as a separate bill and once as an attachment to another—but the Senate did not agree.

Also before the House is HR-2499, to provide that heart disease, lung disease, and specified cancers are presumed to be caused by employment for purposes of workers’ compensation benefits for federal employees who worked in fire protection activities. The policy would apply to those who worked in certain occupations for at least five years and who are diagnosed with the disease within 10 years of employment. Covered occupations would include, in addition to firefighting, positions such as paramedic, emergency medical technician, rescue worker, ambulance personnel, or hazardous material worker.

The bill similarly would provide that disability or death of the employee under such circumstances is to be presumed to result from personal injury sustained in the performance of duty. These presumptions also would apply to fire protection employees regardless of the length of employment who contract any communicable disease at the center of a designated pandemic or any chronic infectious disease that the Department of Labor determines is related to job hazards.

The FECA program recently announced creation of a special unit to process claims from federal firefighters and meanwhile eased the requirements for establishing that certain heart and lung conditions and cancers are work-related.

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