Last week, the House voted 329-101 to pass the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. This bill is asking for nearly $1 trillion in defense spending as well as a number of major changes to federal personnel policies throughout the government.
The NDAA’s status as an annual must-pass bill means that it usually serves as a means for provisions that affect all of the federal government. For example, the enactment of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act provided federal workers every year with up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
Before this year’s bill made it to the House floor, the House Armed Services Committee had already added language solidifying President Biden’s executive order establishing a $15 per hour minimum wage for federal contractors, instructing federal agencies to provide at least $1,000 in recruitment and retention bonuses for federal wildland firefighters, and protecting inspectors general from political retaliation.
There were more than 600 amendments made to the bill over the two days of debate, and workforce policy changes in the legislation has continued to grow. Additionally, Democratic lawmakers were specifically focused on inserting two amendments within the text of the bill. So far, there have not been any moves made in the Senate.
Worthy of note is that legislation from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. would apply Title 5 of the U.S. Code to the Transportation Security Administration workforce. This would add this faction of the federal workforce to the General Schedule pay scale and grant them entry into the federal government’s due process protections, as well as give them full federal sector collective bargaining rights. If enacted, TSA screeners would see an average pay increase of 30% and air marshals would see a 21% raise.
Rep. Gerry Connolly’s Preventing a Patronage System Act was another Democratic desire that made it into the final House version of the bill. This legislation is geared towards preventing future administrations from unilaterally reviving efforts to reclassify federal jobs outside of the federal government’s competitive service. For example, the Trump administration’s failed attempt to create a new Schedule F for employees in policy-related positions, which threatened to strip thousands of federal workers of their civil service protections.
The bill prevents any president from unilaterally creating a new schedule within the excepted service, effectively forcing the executive branch to request that Congress make any additions via legislation.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, another bill already approved by the House, received extra modifications in its text before final passage of the Defense policy bill. These updates target the government’s workers compensation program by creating a presumption that if federal firefighters develop one of a number of serious health conditions, this bill asserts that they are now more likely to have contracted those diseases due to on-the-job exposure. This will make it significantly easier for firefighters to apply for and qualify for disability benefits.
Additionally, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. successfully amended the legislation to require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to create a supplement to the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to solicit questions about federal workers’ experiences with harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Multiple federal employee groups swiftly showed support towards many of the amendments’ inclusion in the House’s final version of the bill.
“This bill contains many of our legislative priorities, including more competitive pay and job protections for the hard-working civil servants who keep our federal government running,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “We applaud the House for passing this legislation in a bipartisan fashion, and we look forward to working with the Senate and the conference committee to further improve this legislation.”
Ken Thomas, national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, sent a letter to lawmakers encouraging support for Connolly’s anti-Schedule F amendment.
“Given the attempt in late 2020 to create a broad new excepted service category with rules more akin to those covering political appointments, and recent legislative efforts to revive that idea, it is critical to pass this amendment now,” he wrote. “It would provide a real, bipartisan check preventing our nation from returning to the spoils system of the late 1800s and ensuring we remain a nation governed by laws.”
One amendment that has caused conflict between House Democrats and the White House was introduced by Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., which would allow the Defense secretary to give a 2.4% salary increase in addition to their normal annual pay raise through “inflation bonus pay” in 2023. This salary increase is for servicemembers and civilian Defense Department employees. The normal pay raise is currently slated to be an average 4.6% increase unless Congress overrides President Biden before the end of this year.
Although this provision was approved vocally by vote with dozens of other amendments, the White House has issued its opposition to the extra pay.
“The administration strongly opposes the limited inflation bonus that would apply only to Department of Defense civilian employees for calendar year 2023,” the administration wrote on Tuesday. “This provision would create significant pay inequities among federal civilian employees and creates other problems, including for the calendar year 2024 pay adjustment, as currently drafted. The administration urges the Congress to support the robust governmentwide civilian pay increase of 4.6% included in the fiscal 2023 budget request.”
The bill is on its way to the Senate for the next round of consideration.
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