Update, 1:30 p.m. ET: Colleague Joe Davidson writes that both bills mentioned here passed the committee on a party-line vote.
Original post: A House committee overseeing the federal workforce is set to vote on a series of measures Wednesday that federal worker union leaders believe unfairly target the rank and file.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which handles federal personnel issues, will hold a vote on a measure forcing agencies to fire employees who fail to pay federal taxes amid reports from the Internal Revenue Service that found hundreds of thousands of executive branch employees owe billions to the government. (To be fair, Capitol Hill staffers also owed about $9.3 million last year.)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is sponsoring the House version of the bill; Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are pushing a Senate version.
The bill is consistent with the GOP’s ongoing push to curtail federal pay and benefits and the size of the federal workforce.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the bill’s zero tolerance for tax delinquency means employees facing “extenuating circumstances” — including divorce, serious illness or significant financial difficulties — could be forced out of a job. She said exempting tax-delinquent lawmakers from the bill is also “unjust.”
The committee will also consider a bill to extend the probationary period for federal employees appointed to senior, tenured positions. Currently the first year of service for federal employees in such positions is considered a probationary period, but Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), wants to extend it to two years in order to give supervisors more time to evaluate a worker’s performance. The legislation also would bar workers from counting probationary time served in a different position towards the new position. Ross is chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on the federal workforce.
“To accept time served in another job would both encourage supervisors to transfer underperforming employees as well as be unfair to the supervisor who receives the transferred employee,” said Ross’s chief of staff Fred Piccolo.
Kelley said the committee never held a public hearing on the bill before scheduling today's vote, adding “There is no reason” to extend the probationary period.
“It is likely that a talented and hard-working federal employee who moves up the career ladder, and moves around the government, could spend much of his or her career in probationary status,” Kelley said.
“This is nothing more than part of a larger ongoing assault against federal employees,” she added.
Piccolo said the Ross bill was discussed at a March 9 hearing and is already in practice at some agencies.
Later in the day, Ross’s subcommittee is scheduled to review the growing number of federal retirees collecting money from the federal worker compensation fund. There are 14,500 workers past retirement age currently receiving payments; more than 6,700 of them are over the age of 76, according to the committee. But these employees are eligible for retirement benefits and appear to be using funds meant for employees who could return to full-time employment after collecting workers compensation benefits for a shorter period of time.
The issue is a pet concern of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has requested an investigation into potential abuse of the fund by federal retirees.
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