The two versions of the annual defense spending bill—passed by the House and ready for passage by the Senate—contain several similar provisions for federal employees, including the extension of special pay authorities for employees working in dangerous areas overseas and several special hiring and pay authorities for DoD to fill in-demand positions. However, they also differ in several important ways, including Senate-only language to raise the buyout maximum to $40,000 government-wide and House-only language to give agencies greater flexibility in the use of temporary and term appointments—which in many cases would come at the cost of permanent appointments. Following are summaries of the bills from reports filed by the two chambers.
Inapplicability of certification of executive qualifications by qualification review boards of Office of Personnel Management for initial appointments to Senior Executive Service positions in Department of Defense (sec. 1101)
The committee recommends a provision that would temporarily exempt the Department of Defense from the requirement that Office of Personnel Management qualification review boards certify candidates for senior executive service positions within the Department. The provision would sunset 2-years after enactment.
Direct hire authority for science and technology reinvention laboratories and Major Range and Test Facilities Base facilities for recent science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates of minority-serving institutions (sec. 1102)
The committee recommends a provision that would create a direct- hire authority at Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratories and Major Range and Test Facilities Base Facilities for graduates of minority-serving institutions with degrees in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering.
Inclusion of Strategic Capabilities Office and Defense Innovation Unit Experimental of the Department of Defense in personnel management authority to attract experts in science and engineering (sec. 1103)
The committee recommends a provision that would extend the existing direct hiring authority codified in section 1599h of title 10, United States Code, to the Strategic Capabilities Office and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.
Enhancement of flexible management authorities for Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratories of the Department of Defense (sec. 1104)
The committee recommends a provision that would extend and enhance existing direct hiring authorities at the Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratories (STRLs) within the Department of Defense. These provisions would extend pilot programs from previous National Defense Authorization Acts based on the committee’s continuing desire to ensure that the Department of Defense is able to recruit and retain high quality technical talent in its laboratories.
Inclusion of Office of Secretary of Defense among components of the Department of Defense covered by direct hire authority for financial management experts (sec. 1105)
The committee recommends a provision that would extend the direct hire authority created in section 1110 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law 114–328) for financial management experts to include the Office of Secretary of Defense.
Authority to employ civilian faculty members at the Joint Special Operations University (sec. 1106)
The committee recommends a provision that would amend section 1595(c) of title 10, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Defense to employ and develop compensation policies for civilian professors, instructors, and lecturers at the Joint Special Operations University.
Alcohol testing of civil service mariners of the Military Sealift Command assigned to vessels (sec. 1121)
The committee recommends a provision that would amend chapter 643 of title 10, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of the Navy to prescribe regulations establishing a program to conduct on-duty reasonable suspicion alcohol testing and post-accident alcohol testing of civil service mariners of the Military Sealift Command assigned to vessels. In addition, this provision would amend section 7479 of such title to permit release of alcohol testing results to the Coast Guard.
Expedited hiring authority for college graduates and post secondary students (sec. 1122)
The committee recommends a provision that would modify the recruitment and hiring process to provide additional flexibility in hiring college graduates and students. This authority would allow Federal agencies to determine recruitment sources and processes for the solicitation of applications in order to compete for top talent. The Director of the Office of Personnel Management would have the authority to cap the number of hires made under this authority.
Increase in maximum amount of voluntary separation incentive pay authorized for civilian employees (sec. 1123)
The committee recommends a proposal that would amend sections 3523 and 9902 of title 5, United States Code, to increase the maximum amount of separation pay authorized for Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay (VSIP) from the current ceiling of $25,000 to $40,000, and includes an annual adjustment in accordance with the Consumer Price Index. The maximum payable amount has not been adjusted since VSIP was first authorized by the Chief Human Capital Officers Act of 2002 (title XIII of Public Law 107–296).
One-year extension of temporary authority to grant allowances, benefits, and gratuities to civilian personnel on official duty in a combat zone (sec. 1124)
The committee recommends a provision that would extend by one year the discretionary authority of the head of a federal agency to provide allowances, benefits, and gratuities comparable to those provided to members of the Foreign Service to an agency’s civilian employees on official duty in a combat zone.
One-year extension of authority to waive annual limitation on premium pay and aggregate limitation on pay for Federal civilian employees working overseas (sec. 1125)
The committee recommends a provision that would amend section 1101 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (Public Law 110–417), as most recently amended by section 1137 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Public Law 115–91), to extend through 2019 the authority of heads of executive agencies to waive limitation on the aggregate of basic and premium pay of employees who perform work in an overseas location that is in the area of responsibility of the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), or a location that was formerly in CENTCOM, but has been moved to an area of responsibility for the Commander, U.S. Africa Command, in support of a military operation or an operation in response to a declared emergency.
Items of Special Interest
Competitive salary and benefits for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals The committee believes the Department of Defense must develop new and innovative methods to attract and manage talent with highly valuable technical skills. The committee recognizes that with new technologies and systems, the civilian and military workforce must be well-trained in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). To this end, the Department of Defense, in coordination with the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Energy, should conduct a comparison of salary and benefits for government professional engineers and scientists compared to similar positions in the private sector, and report the results of such comparison to the congressional defense committees no later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act. This study should consider new competitive strategies to hire and retain a skilled workforce in the STEM fields.
Civilian Talent Recruitment
The committee recognizes that the Department of Defense and the military departments encounter difficulty recruiting highly specialized civilians in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields due to pay and other compensation limitations imposed by the Office of Personnel Management general schedule pay scales. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services not later than January 31, 2019, on the challenges associated with the Department’s efforts to hire organic civilians in the STEM fields. The briefing must include the following elements:
(1) recommendations on how the Department can use professional pay incentives, such as special or incentive pay, like those provided to uniformed career fields such as pilots or medical professionals;
(2) impacts any delays in hiring have on the Department and the services’ medium- and long-term technical capabilities; and and the military services to hire STEM civilians and recommendations for how this process can be improved.
Direct Hiring Authority
The committee notes that section 1106 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law 114-328) provides direct-hire authority to the Secretary of Defense for post-secondary students and recent graduates. Under this authority, the Secretary may recruit and appoint qualified recent graduates and current post-secondary students to competitive service positions in professional and administrative occupations within the Department of Defense. These appointments cannot exceed 15 percent of the number of hires made into professional and administrative occupations. Further, section 1110 of Public Law 114-328 allows for direct-hire authority for the Department for Financial Management Experts not exceeding 10 percent of the number of hires. The committee recognizes that additional hiring challenges exist throughout the Department and at many installations, and notes that additional direct-hiring authority may allow for more efficient and effective hiring of talented personnel in the fields of cybersecurity, engineering, science, and cost analysis positions. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the military departments, to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services not later than January 31, 2019, on the effectiveness of existing direct-hire authority and recommendations for any necessary expansion of or changes to the existing authority to improve the Department’s ability to hire technically skilled personnel in a timely manner.
Presidential Management Fellows Program
The committee recognizes that the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program has been one of the most successful means of recruiting the nation’s top graduate students into U.S. government service. Consistent with the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the committee recognizes the PMF program’s role in recruiting highly-qualified, talented, and innovative graduate students in order to create the “motivated, diverse, and highly skilled civilian workforce.” In the committee’s view, during the four decades since the program’s founding, the Department of Defense has benefited greatly from the program. Despite this, the centrally managed process for hiring PMFs into the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has been suspended since 2015. While Department of Defense components are permitted to hire PMFs, unfortunately, they are unable to replicate the well-rounded experience created by the rotating assignments of the OSD program that is so crucial to leadership at the highest levels. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report by January 31, 2019, on the PMF program. The report shall include the following elements: (a) a description of the PMF program historically and as it currently exists within the Department; (b) statistics on federal civilian employees who entered the Department from the PMF program since its inception, including the overall number, their average length of tenure, the component by which they were hired, their entering and departing career civilian ranks, and an accounting for any notable subsequent leadership positions in the national security field; (c) an explanation for why the centrally managed process for hiring PMFs into the Office of the Secretary of Defense has been suspended and recommendations for any changes to policy, authorities, and resources required to resume it; (d) an assessment of the benefits and costs of resuming the use of and expanding the size of the PMF program across the Department; (e) recommendations for any changes to policy, authorities, and resources required to improve the program and expedite the on-boarding process for PMFs.
Recruitment and Hiring of Navy Astronomers
The Committee recognizes the critical missions of the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) and the Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station (NOFS) to the Department. The Committee is aware of challenges in recent years to recruitment and timely hiring of astronomers at NOFS, which risks key astronomical observation shifts going missed. The Committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to provide a briefing to the Committee on Armed Services of the House no later than December 31, 2018, outlining: the hiring process and timeline for astronomy positions at USNO and NOFS; identifying reasons for delays in approving positions and hiring for such positions; what the Navy is doing to shorten timelines; barriers and challenges to recruitment of individuals with relevant expertise; identifying impediments to hiring such individuals in a timely basis; and identifying impediments to recruiting and relocating individuals to NOFS.
Workplace Flexibility for Federal Civilians
The committee recognizes efforts taken by the military services to increase workplace flexibility to attract and retain talented personnel. The committee remains concerned, however, that a lack of professional flexibility in the civilian work force limits the ability of the Department of Defense and the military services to attract and retain highly trained mid-level career professionals. Family planning and an individual’s desire to further their education are two frequently cited reasons why professionals seek more flexible work schedules.
The committee notes numerous private sector organizations started providing increased work flexibility to their employees, providing incentives that lure the skilled workforce away from the DoD and the services. Therefore, in order to preserve and enhance the DoD’s civilian workforce the committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretaries of the military departments, to provide a briefing by January 31st, 2019 that identifies current policies that allow work-share, job-share, part-time, tele-work, and other flexibilities currently offered by the Department for civilian employees. The briefing should identify the frequency with which these policies are used by each pay-band and career-field, whether certain career-fields have been exempted from certain flexibility programs and the justification for exemption, the number of employees who have been denied opportunities to do work-share, job-share, part-time work, or tele-work, and how many of these employees, as a result, have left the federal government.
Section 1101—Direct Hire Authority for the Department of Defense for Certain Competitive Service Positions
This section would amend chapter 99 of title 5, United States Code, by adding a new section that would provide the Secretary of Defense authority to expedite hiring of civilian personnel into positions involving maintenance, depot maintenance, cybersecurity, acquisition, and science, technology, and engineering. This authority would expire on September 30, 2025.
Section 1102—Modification of Direct Hire Authority for the Department of Defense
for Post-Secondary Students and Recent Graduates
This section would amend chapter 99 of title 5, United States Code, by adding a new section that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to recruit and hire recent graduates into competitive positions in the Department of Defense through September 30, 2025. This section would also repeal the more limited authority provided by section 1106 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law 114-328).
Section 1103—Extension of Overtime Rate Authority for Department of the Navy Employees Performing Work Aboard or Dockside in Support of the Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier Forward Deployed in Japan
This section would amend section 5542 of title 5, United States Code, to extend until September 30, 2021, the authority of the Secretary of the Navy to pay overtime rates to civilian employees performing temporary duty in Japan in support of the forward deployed nuclear aircraft carrier.
Section 1104—One-Year Extension and Expansion of Authority to Waive Annual Limitation on Premium Pay and Aggregate Limitation on Pay for Federal Civilian Employees Working Overseas
This section would amend section 1101 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (Public Law 110-417) to extend the authority to waive the annual limitation on premium pay and aggregate limitation on pay for Federal civilian employees working overseas until September 30, 2019. This section would also restrict the waiver limitation to the pay periods applicable, rather than the entire calendar year.
Section 1105—Appointment of Retired Members of the Armed Forces to Positions in or under the Department of Defense
This section would provide the Secretary of Defense temporary authority to appoint retired members of the Armed Forces to Federal civilian positions within the Department of Defense immediately upon retirement for certain categories of positions. This section would provide this authority to the Secretary for 5 years.
Section 1106—Extension of Authority to Conduct Telework Travel Expenses Test Programs
This section would amend section 5711 of title 5, United States Code, to extend the authority of the Administrator of the General Services Administration to conduct a test telework program until December 31, 2020.
Section 1107—Personnel Demonstration Projects
This section would amend section 4703 of title 5, United States Code, to deem that demonstration projects conducted under this authority lasting more than 10 years shall not count against the limit of 10 such projects ongoing at any time. Section 1108—Expanded Flexibility in Selecting Candidates from Referral Lists This section would amend subchapter I of chapter 33 of title 5, United States Code, to provide Federal agencies flexibility in setting the minimum number of candidates who must be considered on a referral list for each vacancy by amending sections 3317, 3318, and 3319 of such title.
Section 1109—Temporary and Term Appointments in the Competitive Service
This section would amend subchapter I of chapter 31 of title 5, United States Code, by adding a new section that would authorize the heads of Federal agencies to hire civilian personnel through temporary and term appointments. This section would also permit an agency head to make noncompetitive hires for up to 18 months to meet a critical need.