Today, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees released the text of the conference report for the annual defense policy bill, the defense authorization act (NDAA), H.R. 5515, that includes a handful of government-wide personnel provisions. This language is the result of a formal House and Senate Conference Committee that worked out differences between the FY 2019 House and Senate defense authorization bills. At this time, the House is expected to pass the conference report later this week before departing for its five-week planned August recess.
On a positive note, NTEU is significantly pleased that the conferees struck a provision included in the House-passed bill (House Section 1112) that would have required an annual report on official time. As you may recall, the House defense bill incorporated a free-standing bill, H.R. 1293, sponsored by Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL), requiring an annual report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on agencies’ use of official time. The report would also require a reporting on the total number of federal employees who solely conduct union activities under official time (those on 100% official time); the description of the use of federal property, including the square footage of office space and rooms provided for official time activities; and the specific activities and purposes for which official time was granted, and their resulting impact on agency operations. Given the fact that the most recent OPM report on official time refers to the practice as “Taxpayer Funded Union Time,” and following the administration’s release of the May 25th Executive Orders, NTEU regards this language as opening the door to actual statutory changes to official time and union rights.
NTEU is also pleased that another House provision (House Section 1109) to extend the employment period for term and temporary employees was dropped in conference. This language would have allowed agencies to hire term and temporary employees for significantly longer periods of time, which is currently two and four years respectively, and without providing public notice for positions. NTEU was primarily concerned that these expanded hiring authorities would be used to hire short-term workers, without benefits, at the expense of hiring, full-time, permanent positions. The conference committee also included a House provision (House Section 1106) to extend GSA’s existing authority for a telework pilot for another seven years. This telework authority has alone been successfully utilized by PTO, and its inclusion in the conference report soundly demonstrates that Congress, despite the administration’s recent efforts and rhetoric aimed at rolling back telework, continues to strongly support telework in the federal sector.
However, we are disappointed that the conferees dropped a Senate provision (Senate Section 1123) that would have increased the amount of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs) from $25,000 to $40,000 and allowed this figure to be adjusted for inflation. NTEU strongly supported this provision, for proper workforce reshaping, particularly at agencies that are downsizing or going through a reorganization, and because the dollar amount has been frozen for so many years that it no longer functions as a true incentive for individuals. While DOD only has received authority from Congress to offer VSIPs up to $40k, Congress continues to be unwilling to increase this amount for other agencies, creating a disparity in the workforce.
Further, we are also disappointed that the conference committee maintained several personnel provisions including a provision providing direct hiring authority to agencies for college graduates and post-secondary students (Senate Section 1122/House Section 1110), which was in both the House- and Senate-passed bills. NTEU had opposed this language due to the elimination of veterans’ preference and the limited notice requirement for internal candidates who could miss out on potential promotional opportunities in their home agencies. While NTEU welcomes the next generation to federal service, we believe their hiring should be done under the merit system principles, with veterans’ preference and full public notice to guard against a career civil service from becoming comprised of only political appointees, and the family and friends of those in leadership positions. The language does limit agencies to use of this hiring authority to 15 percent of its total hires and is restricted to GS-11 positions and below. The final measure also retains a House-passed provision (House Section 1107) that expands the number of alternative personnel systems, that operate outside of the General Schedule. NTEU remains concerned that this alternative personnel language could be used to herald in larger attempts to derail compensation, performance management, and their negotiability. Language was also added in by the conferees that was not included in either the House or Senate bills to expand agencies’ ability and authorities for shared register lists that can be used for hiring. NTEU-crafted language requiring positions to still be announced to internal candidates is included.
Overall, we are pleased that our congressional allies recognized the need to safeguard core federal employee collective bargaining rights by insisting on dropping the official time language.
I will keep you posted on the measure’s progress.