Family-Leave Plan Is Halved

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A proposal to provide eight weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees was cut to four weeks by a key House Democrat yesterday as Republicans expressed concerns about the benefit's cost.

Still, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child would make the government a leader in strengthening families and would be a "prudent fiscal approach."

Waxman's scaled-back leave benefit was approved by his panel's federal workforce subcommittee on a voice vote, with Republicans in opposition. The vote was on an amendment offered by Waxman to a bill sponsored by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who has championed legislation for paid parental leave for the past eight years.

The amended bill is "a positive step in the right direction," Maloney said in a statement. "While I would like to see eight weeks of paid leave, I understand that policymaking is about compromise and incremental change."

Maloney has repeatedly pointed to studies showing that the United States has not kept pace with other industrialized countries when it comes to providing paid family leave, suggesting that it is time for the federal government to become a role model for the nation's employers. At a House hearing on her proposal last month, she noted that too often federal employees are forced to choose between their paycheck and spending time with a new child.

But her bill has encountered resistance from the Bush administration, which says federal employees have ample and generous benefits that can be used for maternity leave.

Yesterday, Rep. Kenny Marchant (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the federal workforce subcommittee, and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that they were concerned about the cost of providing paid parental leave and whether this was the time to grant a new benefit to federal employees.

Federal employees should not receive increased benefits during an economic slowdown, when companies are cutting back, Issa said. By considering paid parental leave for them, "we are making a statement that we are out of touch," he said.

Marchant said he is worried that the bill would carry a "hefty price tag," while Jordan asked Democrats to give him an estimate of its cost.

Waxman said the most recent estimate was made in 2000 for a bill that would have provided six weeks of paid parental leave. It would have cost $95 million in the first year.

His approach, Waxman said, would provide paid leave for four weeks and then permit federal employees to take as much as eight weeks of paid sick leave, assuming they had been in government long enough to save that much sick leave.

Federal employees earn 13 days of paid sick leave each year, which they can build up over the years without limitation. Most employees also earn from 13 to 26 days of paid vacation each year, and they may carry as much as six weeks of annual leave into the following year.

Waxman said he hopes to have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office before the legislation comes up for a floor vote. He and other Democrats stressed that cost should not be an overriding issue, suggesting that offering a benefit to keep people in government has to be balanced against the costs of hiring and training new employees.

The bill, as amended, was approved on a 7 to 3 vote by the subcommittee, with Issa, Jordan and Marchant, the three Republicans present, voting no.

In her statement yesterday, Maloney thanked Waxman and the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), for moving the bill toward a full committee vote and a floor vote.

The American workplace, she said, has not kept pace with the changing needs of families, especially those that "no longer have a stay-at-home parent to provide care for a new child."

Outdated family-leave policies, she said, "are a talent drain on the government -- they're an incentive for skilled people to look elsewhere for work at the very time when our government needs them most."

The subcommittee also approved on voice vote a bill sponsored by Davis that would encourage greater diversity in the Senior Executive Service, in part by requiring the Office of Personnel Management to set up an office to oversee the recruitment and management of federal executives.

The bill, and a companion measure in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), would order each federal agency to create three-member Senior Executive Service panels, each of which would include at least one member of a racial or ethnic minority and at least one woman.

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