As one of its last actions before recessing until after Labor Day, the Senate this week is considering a House-passed budget agreement (HR-3877) that leaves for later many of the federal workplace-related issues that are tied to the budget.
Passage of the agreement would relieve pressures set by an earlier spending cap that had threatened another deadlock of the sort that triggers partial government shutdowns and that carried the potential for “sequestration” budget cuts of the sort that caused widespread unpaid furloughs in 2013.
However, even assuming the Senate approves the measure—and that is not guaranteed—Congress still must translate its broad goals into specific spending and policy language for the fiscal year that starts October 1. The Senate has not written any of the 12 appropriations bills needed to do that; the House has passed 10 of them.
Among the issues on which the Senate has not taken even an initial position is whether to grant an average 3.1 percent federal employee raise in January as approved by the House, or some other figure. The addition of available money likely improves the chances of the Senate’s agreement to that number. However, the number likely won’t go higher since the military is on track to receive 3.1 percent, as well.
Also to be determined are policy provisions in the House-passed general government bill. One would stop any further steps in the administration’s plan to break up OPM—sending its operating divisions to GSA and its policy making functions to OMB. Another would bar agencies from imposing new policies in areas previously covered by negotiated contracts unless those contracts are renegotiated or the terms were imposed by an outside body such as the Federal Service Impasses Panel.
Among the terms of the budgetary agreement worked out between the White House and congressional leaders was that spending bills would not contain so-called “poison pills”—language that effectively takes positions on controversial issues by funding, or not funding, certain agency activities. The House’s provisions regarding the OPM breakup and negotiated contracts could be interpreted in that way. However, so far there has been no indication that the administration now considers those issues to be off the table for negotiations, likely leaving them to be decided along with other issues after Labor Day.
Other appropriations bills passed by the House meanwhile aim to prevent other administration plans including reorganizing the Interior and Agriculture departments, both of which would result in transferring hundreds of employees from the national capital area.