Fedweek

An agreement before the recess has lessened chances of a partial government shutdown but some type of further measure must be enacted before September 30 to prevent one.

Congress is back at work this week, returning to face issues of importance to federal employees that it left on the table when it recessed more than a month ago, including a federal raise in January, the potential breakup of OPM and other agencies, and more.

With less than three weeks of working time before the current fiscal year ends September 30, some action will be needed on funding agencies beyond the expiration of current spending authority. A general budgetary agreement enacted just before the recess, allotting more money than would have been available under a previous agreement, seems to have greatly lessened chances of a partial government shutdown.

However, some type of further measure must be enacted before September 30 to prevent one. The House has passed only 10 of the 12 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020 while the Senate has passed none, leading to an expectation that a temporary extension will be needed. The Senate Appropriations Committee is starting to write its versions this week.

Among the measures the House has passed—but is not yet on the Senate committee schedule—is the general government appropriations bill (HR-3351), which would provide a total average 3.1 percent raise with the first full pay period of January, split as 2.6 percent across the board and 0.5 percentage points for variable locality pay. During the recess, President Trump abandoned his prior call for a pay freeze and backed a 2.6 percent raise with no locality component. That narrowed, but did not close, the difference.

A wider difference of opinion remains over the planned further steps to break up OPM. Its background investigations function already is in transition to DoD and that will be finalized effective October 1. The House bill would deny funding for the remaining planned steps of sending the retirement, insurance and HR services functions of OPM to the GSA while creating a new office under OMB to oversee personnel policies. The bill also contains language to essentially bar agencies from unilaterally imposing new policies over subjects that previously had been negotiated.

Several weeks ago, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland asserted that the House will not allow the further OPM reorganization steps to happen; more recently a majority of the House signed a joint letter urging the Democratic leadership to hold firm on the bargaining provision. Also, the AFGE union has filed a suit contending that decisions being issued in favor of management in disputes over the allowable scope of bargaining are invalid; it argues that by law, the Federal Services Impasses Panel, an arm of the FLRA, cannot issue such decisions without a full complement of members and that the members must be confirmed by the Senate and not directly appointed by the White House, as the current members were.

Disputes over agency reorganizations also could figure in other spending bills, with language in the House bills designed to block planned transfers of employees at Agriculture and Interior.