A plan that leaders could unveil as soon as late Monday would fund agencies except for the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the current fiscal year, through September; DHS might be funded only through February, leaving the new Congress an opportunity to use the department’s budget as leverage on immigration policy.
The current stopgap measure, like the now-stalled regular appropriations bills, was silent regarding a federal employee pay raise for January. If the next measure also takes no position, a 1 percent across-the-board raise would take effect by default under a complex federal pay law. That would be the second straight year of an increase that size after three years of frozen salary rates.
Two other pieces of business before the Senate are bills the House passed last week on tax policy and the defense budget.
The tax measure would increase retroactively a subsidy that employers, including the federal government, can pay for their employees to use mass transit or van pools in their commuting. The maximum tax-free amount fell to $130 this year when a temporary boost expired. The tax “extenders” bill would boost that amount to $250 for calendar year 2014, although the amount once again would fall to $130 in January.
Many agencies pay those subsidies in the form of direct payments or transit passes, in some cases under terms of union contracts.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement that the union will work with the new Congress to make the boost permanent. “In the meantime, NTEU strongly believes that employees, including federal workers, are entitled to the difference between the current and the enhanced transit benefit going as far back as [the bill’s] retroactivity provision allows. NTEU will work to ensure agencies pay employees retroactive subsidies.”
Also before the Senate is the annual defense authorization bill, which would renew an authority that expired in October allowing agencies to rehire federal retirees for limited periods without an offset between their salaries and their annuities. That authority would be extended through 2019.
“Over the last five years, this authority has proved important for the successful recruitment, retention and mentorship of our federal civil servants,” National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association president Richard G. Thissen said in a statement. “This is especially important now, as agencies balance workloads amid an ongoing retirement wave and sequestration-level funding.”
Meanwhile, the House has scheduled a vote for as early as Tuesday on a Senate-passed bill revamping overtime policy for Border Patrol agents, in the wake of an Office of Special Counsel investigation and Senate hearings into reported abuses of “administratively uncontrollable” overtime pay. That pay of up to 25 percent of salary covers unscheduled time those employees remain at work when, in their judgment, the demands of the job require it.
Under the bill, those agents instead would choose a biweekly work schedule of 80, 90 or 100 hours, with adjusted increases in basic pay for the latter two. They generally would become ineligible for overtime pay although they would be eligible for compensatory time off for working beyond their regularly scheduled hours.