House to take up two bipartisan bills affecting federal employees

July 14, 2014

We now interrupt the regularly scheduled bickering over the federal government for a moment of bipartisanship.

The House plans to vote as soon Monday on two bills that, while limited in scope, show that the two parties can agree on some issues involving the federal workforce. Both are backed by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, home turf of many of the ongoing battles over the government, and are scheduled for voting under a shortcut procedure used for non-controversial bills.

(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

One would build on a bipartisan 2012 law increasing protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on abusive practices. It would extend by three years a provision of that law allowing those workers to appeal to regional federal circuit courts, rather than the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, if they lose claims of retaliation before the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The Federal Circuit court had issued a number of decisions over the years restricting what is considered to be protected whistleblowing, some of which the earlier law overturned. The wider choice of appeals courts otherwise would expire later this year.

The second bill would apply only to federal employees newly hired in the future. Currently, if new hires don’t designate an investment fund for their automatic savings into the Thrift Savings Plan, the money is put into the most conservative of the choices, a government securities fund.

The bill would change that default option to a “lifecycle” fund appropriate for the person’s age. Those funds mix stock and bond investments to create a risk/reward blend deemed appropriate for a given number of years until the money will be withdrawn. Those employees, like all investors in the 401(k)-style TSP, would remain free to choose any other fund or funds; the bill targets those who never move away from the default fund.

But after those votes, the rest of the week is shaping up like a return to the regularly scheduled programming. The committee  on Tuesday will hold a hearing examining the government’s main pay scale, the General Schedule, which has been criticized for years for insufficiently rewarding good performance or penalizing poor performance.

That is to be followed by a hearing on the White House Office of Political Affairs and then one on the Justice Department’s handling of the IRS targeting scandal.

Meanwhile, the full House expects to vote Wednesday on a spending bill covering the IRS and several other agencies for the fiscal year beginning in October. The bill would provide just under $11 billion for the IRS, $341 million below the current level and $1.5 billion below what the White House requested. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS workers, said Monday that the lowered amount would hamper the agency’s ability to collect taxes and provide customer service.

The bill also carries several controversial policy riders, including one to prevent the IRS from spending money to enforce the individual insurance mandate under the health care law. It also would ban performance awards to IRS employees unless their personal compliance with tax laws is considered.

That bill further is silent regarding a January 2015 federal employee pay raise. Under a complex federal pay-setting law, that in effect would leave room for the White House’s proposal for a 1 percent increase to take effect. The counterpart Senate bill also effectively leaves room for the raise.

Senior political appointees would not receive it, however, and the House earlier voted to deny a raise for Congress.

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Josh Hicks · July 14, 2014