Fedweek

Washington DC, Jan 2019: House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-SC, left, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer D-Md., right, converse as the 116th Congress convenes for its opening session.

A key leader has said that House Democrats will hold firm on several federal employment-related matters during budget negotiations that will begin in September after the current congressional recess is over.

Majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland mentioned in particular the 3.1 percent average federal employee raise for January that the House has endorsed in an appropriations bill, calling the raise necessary and reasonable; however, he said the administration’s plan to move most of OPM’s operating functions into the GSA and send its policy functions to the OMB is neither.

The House has passed language to block that move as part of that same spending bill and in a briefing with reporters Hoyer said the House will hold to that position (OPM’s background investigations function already is on its way to DoD and there has been no move in Congress to stop it).

The Senate has not directly addressed either the raise or the OPM breakup; it has not passed any of the dozen spending bills for the budget year that starts October 1. The House has passed 10 of them and in some cases the two chambers may simply negotiate off the House versions to speed the process, although a temporary extension called a continuing resolution might be needed, Hoyer said.

Separately, he cited said the House will push for its position in a different bill set for a House-Senate conference, the annual DoD authorization, to change from unpaid to paid the maximum 12 weeks per 12 months that federal employees can take under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Senate version does not contain similar language.

The White House has said it strongly opposes an attempt to block further breakup of OPM, has less strongly opposed granting a raise, and has generally supported paid parental leave for federal employees along with others—although it has not directly addressed the provision in the House defense spending bill which would apply only to federal employees and would apply to personal and family medical emergencies as well as to parental purposes.

The House-passed spending bills also contain a number of other provisions to be resolved in the time ahead, including one to block the move of most of USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the capital area to the Kansas City area. Meanwhile, Agriculture has said that it will offer buyout incentives of only $10,000, versus the standard $25,000 for employees of those agencies to resign or retire rather than relocate.

The department cited the large number of employees who applied for buyouts and its desire to provide some payment to all of them; it is giving employees the opportunity to reject the buyout, which comes with the standard general five-year restriction against returning to federal employment even though the amount is lower.

However, that has triggered objections from the AFGE union, which represents employees in both, and from Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who represents a Virginia district where many of the affected employees live. That issue, too, could become part of the upcoming budgetary debate.

The AFGE and the department previously had reached an agreement providing those willing to relocate with an incentive of a month’s salary, among other benefits.