Whistleblower, Other Familiar Bills Set to Advance; Postal Reform Offered

Federal employees would gain additional protections against retaliation for whistleblowing under HR-657, set to be passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The measure, which passed the full House but not the Senate last year, clarifies that protections against retaliation apply to any federal employee who refuses to obey an order that would require the employee to violate a rule or regulation. Sponsors say that has been the understanding of Congress traditionally; however, a recent court decision held that those protections apply only for employees who refuse to obey an order that would require them to break a law, not just a rule or regulation. The panel also plans to approve three other bills mirroring those it passed in the prior Congress but that did not make it into law: HR-702, to expand the required notifications by agencies when discrimination occurs, require agencies to track and report related disciplinary actions, and bar nondisclosure policies that restrict an employee from disclosing activity that is subject to whistleblower protection; HR-653, to extend anti-discrimination protection to interns working in federal agencies; and HR-396, to make those with seriously delinquent tax debt ineligible for federal employment, with exceptions including for current employees or applicants who are working to settle their tax disputes and resolve outstanding liabilities. Meanwhile, bipartisan members of the panel have reintroduced a postal reform bill (HR-756) similar to one the committee passed in mid-2016. Among other changes the bill would: give the USPS more leeway to raise rates and offer new services; stretch out over 40 years the requirement to pre-fund retiree health insurance that has been a main factor in its budget losses of recent years; and split off postal employees and retirees into a separate health insurance program within the FEHB starting in 2019, with postal retirees generally required to enroll in Medicare Part B when eligible.