Update: July 12, 1:35 p.m.
In a 220 to 197 vote that fell primarily on party lines, the House voted to pass the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that includes provisions to grant federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave and to block the breakup of the Office of Personnel Management.
The legislation now must be reconciled with the Senate version of the same bill, which does not include the family leave or OPM amendments.
House Democrats have moved to add provisions to the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would impact federal employees beyond those that work in the Pentagon.
Two amendments to the NDAA, which were approved by the Rules Committee July 9, would prevent the Trump administration’s plan to break up the Office of Personnel Management and provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave in the case of a new child or family member in need of care.
“If Congress takes seriously the recruitment and retention challenges facing the federal government, such as a well-documented skills gap and the need to fill mission-critical positions, then implementing a paid family leave policy that is a human resources best practice is a no-brainer. With the federal workforce aging, recruitment of young workers is more important than ever, and offering paid family leave is a good step towards meeting these challenges,” said National Active and Retired Federal Employees National President Ken Thomas in a statement.
“We applaud the House for recognizing the importance of this measure by attaching it to a critical defense spending bill, and we urge all members of Congress to pass the FY20 NDAA.”
Both amendments have appeared elsewhere in House legislation. The block of OPM dismantling was included in the FY2020 General Government Appropriations legislation that was passed by the House in late June, while paid family leave got its own legislation, titled the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, in both the House and Senate.
So why include the provisions in the NDAA?
Because funding legislation is considered must-pass in order to keep the government operating in the next fiscal year, members of Congress often attach other pieces of legislation to funding packages as a way of getting their bills passed quickly under a prioritized budget process. The NDAA, in particular, is often an early priority in the budget cycle.
That early focus is especially important if members want to pass legislation blocking the OPM merger, as some representatives have characterized the OPM debacle with the White House as a race to see whether the administration will act before Congress can pass legislation.
The administration upped the ante in mid-June, by stating that it would have to furlough and potentially lay off some OPM employees if the dismantling isn’t approved.
“This amendment would prohibit the administration from dismantling the Office of Personnel Management by merging its policy functions with the Office of Management and Budget and sending its remaining functions to the General Services Administration,” wrote American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. in a letter to House members.
“The administration’s plans to dismantle OPM are merely a continuation of its ongoing effort to politicize federal government employment practices and break the framework that has safeguarded merit-based federal government employment since the era of the ‘spoils system’ was abolished in the late 19th century.”
Neither provision was included in the Senate version of the NDAA — though 12 weeks of paid parental leave was included for members of the intelligence community — meaning that both would have to survive the resolution of differences phase if they pass the House to make it into the law that is sent to the president’s desk.
Both measures have received support from senators, predominantly on the Democratic side, but that is no guarantee of them surviving a Republican-controlled Senate. And as the block on OPM reorganization directly contradicts the White House’s plans for the agency, members of Congress may decide to remove the provision to decrease the likelihood of a presidential veto.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.