Fedweek

Current spending authority expires November 21 and political leaders must act before then to prevent another partial government shutdown.

Congressional budget leaders have raised the prospect of a temporary extension of agency spending authority until after the turn of the year, creating a possibility that decisions on issues including the January pay raise for federal employees will be delayed with it.

The current temporary spending authority, mostly at fiscal 2019 funding levels, expires November 21 and political leaders must take some action before then to prevent another partial government shutdown. However, the regular appropriations process continues to move only slowly, with the Senate this week considering a package of four of the regular bills and expecting to turn next to another package, potentially of three more.

Even that still would leave five more bills for the Senate to consider—the House still has two on its plate—and numerous differences in all of them to be resolved before final voting. There are only slim hopes of accomplishing all of that in the remaining three weeks, especially in light of a new message from OMB to Congress objecting to dozens of funding and policy provisions in the bills.

Differences include House language to stop relocations of employees of several Agriculture Department agencies and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management from the national capital area, and the administration’s plan to move OPM’s operating divisions to the GSA while putting its policy functions in OMB. Another involves border security spending, which also is holding up the annual DoD authorization bill—where the House has backed 12 weeks of paid parental and family leave per year for federal employees—due to disagreements over using money from that bill for border wall construction.

With much of Congress’s attention on the impeachment inquiry and other matters, there have been suggestions of an extension until sometime in February or March. That could have an impact on the federal employee raise, which still is unsettled. The House has passed a bill providing for a 3.1 percent increase with variations in locality but the full Senate has not taken up its counterpart bill, which effectively backs 2.6 percent across the board.

That bill, the general government appropriations, is not in the package of bills now before the Senate and is not expected to be in the second package, leaving it questionable whether Congress will reach a decision on the raise by November 21. An action before then to extend current funding past the end of the year could mean payment of a 2.6 percent increase, which President Trump has said he will pay as a default raise in the absence of a specific amount being enacted into law by December 31.

Supporters of a higher amount would then left in the position of trying to get a larger boost enacted retroactively.