Fedweek

The Senate could soon follow last week’s passage in the House of its version of annual DoD authorization bill (HR-4350) with a vote on its version (S-2792), which contains differences that would have to be worked out in a later conference.

The House measure would end a requirement in effect there since 2015 for a two-year probationary period for newly hired employees and return the department instead to the general policy in effect elsewhere of one year. That authority was enacted on grounds that one year is not enough to judge the performance of employees in many jobs which require specific training and on the job learning; federal unions, though, argue that it leaves employees without the full appeal rights that come with successfully completing a probationary period for too long.

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However, a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee on its bill—an action that typically signals a floor vote is upcoming soon—is silent on the issue. The Federal Managers Association, which earlier opposed the House language, has again urged that the Senate not agree to the change until a study of the impact of the longer period is completed.

The two chambers also differ, although to a lesser degree, regarding another DoD-specific policy, making performance ratings the top factor in RIF retention there after the type of appointment (permanent vs. temporary or term). The House version would repeal that provision, in effect since 2017, and return DoD to the standard used elsewhere in which performance ratings are the last factor. The Senate merely would require that performance “be among the factors considered by the Department of Defense in the case of employee reductions, rather than the primary factor.”

Both of those policies at one time were seen as setting a potential precedent for application government-wide.

Also, while the House would mandate that all wage grade employees within a GS locality’s boundary receive equivalent annual raises, the Senate would only urge the OPM to make that change in its regulations. The House bill further contains new restrictions against managing by personnel ceilings—a practice that is viewed as encouraging use of contractors over in-house employees—that is not in the Senate version.

The Senate version meanwhile contains language not in the House version to extend through fiscal 2025 the department’s discretion to pay buyouts in downsizing or reorganizations of up to $40,000 rather than the $25,000 maximum elsewhere. The policy, also in effect since 2017, otherwise is to expire with the current fiscal year on Thursday (September 30).

Both bills would continue the practice of annually extending certain special pay authorities for DoD employees working overseas in support of military operations.

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