Federal Benefits Service

3 Major Takeaways from the Impending Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

In the beginning of August, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in the Senate with a 69-30 vote.  

Now, after recent meetings and discussions, the House seems to be set to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in September.  

As far as changes go, federal employee groups are not expecting much as the House takes up the bipartisan bill.  Many of these groups are already reviewing their wins and losses of the current iteration of legislation in order to prepare for changes that will likely become law. 

Below are some noteworthy highlights from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that may impact federal employees and their agencies. 

Increased Workload for the IRS  

The bill cancels COVID-19 relief programs that the IRS implemented in 2020 and expanded at the start of the year. This includes the employee retention credit program, which incentivized small businesses to keep workers on payroll. 

The program would end September 30th, leaving the IRS practically no time to make complicated mid-year tax changes. 

“When there’s a mid-season tax change it’s always very complicated,” said Chad Hooper, executive director of the Professional Managers Association, which represents supervisors at the IRS. “It requires immediate reprogramming and immediate training, and you have to pull people off their work to give them this training.” 

With such a crunched period of time and massive changes ahead, taxpayers and small business owners that face impact will likely have questions about the changes, and will flood the IRS to answer them. 

According to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s June report, customer service at the IRS has reached a historic low point, with just 7% of callers getting through to an IRS representative during the last filing season.  

The agency experienced a 294% increase over 2018, by receiving more than 167 million calls during the 2021 filing season. 

Hooper went on to say that the new responsibilities feel like a blow considering Congress did not include additional investments for the IRS, which were once part of the conversation as a way to partially offset infrastructure spending. 

“It feels like insult to injury to have taken away this historic investment in the IRS that is so sorely needed and then give the IRS these two very expansive assignments, which is to invest an entire way to tax digital assets and to rescind this credit,” Hooper said. “That will give us an immediate crunch on service and capacity, while we’re trying to plan for the upcoming fiscal year and while we’re trying to dig out from the last two filing seasons. Those assignments in the infrastructure bill come with zero dollars of funding.” 

Senators discussed the addition of a smaller IRS investment in the infrastructure bill, but it was dropped during negotiations. 

The impeding new responsibilities from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, on top of the backlog of work from the previous two filing seasons and preparations for the 2022 season create a “perfect storm” for the IRS, Hooper said. 

More salary and workforce changes for federal firefighters 

Around $600 million of the Senate-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be dedicated to federal wildland firefighter salaries as well as other workforce initiatives. 

The Interior and Agriculture Departments plan to convert those funds to upgrading at least 1,000 seasonal workers into permanent members of the federal firefighter workforce. 

The bill also instructs Interior, USDA and the Office of Personnel Management to create a new wildland firefighter occupation series. 

Under the new job series, positions located in a specified geographic region where it’s difficult to recruit and retain federal firefighter talent will be eligible for an annual salary increase of $20,000 or an amount worth 50% of base pay. 

“These items are all necessary to the proper functioning and safety of our wildland firefighter workforce and we are eager to have them approved by Congress,” Randy Erwin, NFFE national president, said last week in a statement. 

 Major Increase in Cybersecurity Provisions 

Cybersecurity as a whole is extremely prominent in the new bill. 

Importantly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill would place $21 million for the new Office of the National Cyber Director, a position that the White House could use utilize through the end of fiscal 2022 to hire additional staff.  

It is improbable that Congress will have the time to pass a full year’s budget with funding for the new cyber office by the September 30th deadline, which makes this one-time investment of $21 million more meaningful. 

The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is set to receive $31.5 million every year for the next five years to fund vulnerability testing research as well as cyber risk assessment. 

The bill also includes a $35 million investment in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in order to help manage the government’s cyber coordination activities. 

Additionally, updates to strategic planning surrounding new cybersecurity priorities would be a mandatory action for several federal agencies, including but not limited to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Administration. 

Lastly, under the bill, the Homeland Security secretary would be given power to declare a breach of a public or private sector network as a “significant incident,” triggering direct support from CISA in the form of funding and other forms of assistance. 

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