As a Congress enters its final working weeks there is always a push to enact legislation that has made some progress and that otherwise would have to start over from the beginning when the next Congress convenes in January. However, beyond a decision on a raise for January, it’s uncertain whether much legislation with a direct financial impact on federal employees and retirees will be considered.
The raise decision will be made in the context of the financial services-general government measure still pending in a House-Senate conference. The decision almost certainly will come down to whether federal employees will get no raise in January or an average 1.9 percent increase.
The White House has advocated a freeze and the House initially consented but the more recent indications have been that the final version of the bill will provide for a raise as advocated by the Senate. If a raise is to be paid it would have to be specified in law, in contrast to recent years when a raise was set by default and Congress could allow it to occur by remaining silent. This year, President Trump set a freeze as a default.
Another major bill that carries federal employment-related policies, the annual DoD authorization, was signed into law in late summer, much earlier than usual. It contained several relatively minor changes in hiring policy but was mostly notable for what it did not do: it did not include initial Senate language to boost the buyout maximum to $40,000 government-wide, up from the $25,000 now applying everywhere but DoD.
There has been no indication of a move since then to attach similar language to another measure, although unexpected action can occur quickly as a Congress nears its end and the “last train out” effect occurs. The same applies to numerous other proposals related to benefits, disciplinary policies and other proposals that have had at least some consideration on Capitol Hill this year.
One such possibility is a Senate vote on nominees to fill all three seats on MSPB’s governing board. That board has had only one member since January 2017 and without a quorum it is unable to issue decisions on appeals from its hearing officers—who have continued issuing their decisions in that time, resulting in a backlog of some 1,500 cases.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee could vote on the nominations as soon as this week. The nominations have been on the back burner since a confirmation hearing four months ago, leading to speculation that they would not come to a vote in this Congress, meaning that new nominations would have to be made in the new Congress convening in January.