On March 1st, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform considered and approved multiple federal workforce bills, while separately the House of Representatives passed a federal hiring bill on the floor, clearing the measure for the President’s signature.
The committee began by considering a bill to reform agencies’ use of administrative leave for the purposes of conducting investigations of employees in the areas of misconduct and performance. Earlier in January, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 4359, a bill that would only provide paid administrative leave for up to a total of 14 days. Under the bill as introduced, agencies would continue to conduct their investigations, prior to determining whether or not to issue any type of adverse action, but after 14 days, the employee would no longer be allowed to be in any kind of paid status. NTEU strongly opposed placing employees into any type of unpaid status prior to any agency determination and right to due process, and the bill was removed from committee consideration in January based upon this opposition.
During this week’s round of committee consideration, Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA) introduced a substitute measure that would allow agencies to continue to pay employees while they remain on administrative leave during an ongoing investigation that is longer than 14 days. In general, under the bill, agencies are to return employees to work (either in the office or on telework) during the course of investigations, unless the individual is a threat to safety, the agency mission, or U.S. government property, and the measure would require extensive agency reporting to Congress for each 30-day extension of administrative leave. The Lynch substitute measure was favorably reported unanimously out of committee.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved and reported out a different version of administrative leave reform in February that was authored by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT).
NTEU will continue its efforts to ensure that employees are not unfairly forced into an unpaid status before agencies have made any determinations and issued any adverse actions, as Congress pursues enhanced transparency and accountability in management’s use of administrative leave.
The committee also considered H.R. 4392, a bill introduced by Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) that would require a detailed annual report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on agencies’ use of official time. Currently, OPM is not required by law to produce reports on official time, though the agency does voluntarily issue such reports from time to time. The bill would require each agency, and subcomponent, to annually report the total amount of official time granted, the total number of employees provided with official time, as well as the specific types of activities and purpose for which the official time was provided, as well as the resulting impact on agency operations. Additionally, the report would require agencies to report the total compensation (employee salary and benefits) expended for any official time hours granted.
During committee consideration of the bill, Representative Jody Hice (R-GA) introduced a substitute measure that would require the annual official time report to include a thorough description of the room or space used for official time activities at agencies, including the exact square footage. The Hice amended bill was favorably reported out of committee on a party-line vote. While this official time measure does not eliminate or place actual limits or restrictions on official time, NTEU opposes these type of legislative attempts which are the first step in an overall anti-labor agenda to eliminate official time.
On a related item, Chairman Chaffetz has in recent weeks issued a series of letters to over 20 agencies, including several NTEU-represented agencies, posing numerous questions about their use of official time, including requesting the square footage of the space provided at agencies for these activities. NTEU sent a letter opposing these bills.
Collective Bargaining Rights
Additionally, the committee considered H.R. 4361, a bill introduced by Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL) that would prohibit collective bargaining on any IT issues such as IT training and over IT access such as employee access to personal e-mail and Facebook and ability to use personal mobile devices in the workplace. The bill seeks to provide agency heads the “sole and exclusive authority” over all IT issues and systems. In the wake of the recent OPM data breaches, agencies are stepping up their overall cyber security efforts, and some on Capitol Hill believe a requirement to bargain over IT issues will negatively hamper agencies’ cyber posture and ability to ensure a secure IT environment. The Palmer measure was favorably reported out of committee, largely on a party-line vote.
Separately, the House of Representatives cleared a federal hiring bill, H.R. 2827, that passed the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2015, and which will now head to the President for enactment. The Competitive Service Act would provide federal agencies with an additional type of hiring appointment authority. It allows (but does not require) federal agencies to share hiring registers under certain prescribed circumstances. Under the measure, federal agency “A” would be able to allow other agencies to access the resulting best qualified list of applicants for a set period of time, if at the time of notice, agency “A” included in its position announcement that the resulting list of eligible candidates could be used by additional appointing authorities. This bipartisan measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Rob Wittman (R-VA), and in the Senate by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rob Portman (R-OH). NTEU worked closely with the bill sponsors to ensure that the language does not impact collective bargaining agreements in any way, including first consideration rights. Additionally, NTEU secured language requiring agencies to provide notice and job application opportunities to internal candidates when subsequent agencies opt to make use of a prior agency’s hiring register.
NTEU is committed to working with our allies on Capitol Hill to defeat the anti-collective bargaining and official time proposals, and to ensure that employees continue to have full due process rights and notice of all available job and advancement opportunities.