Provisions in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 could be used to not only benefit the Pentagon’s military personnel but also to improve the workplace for the agency’s civilian workforce and employees across the executive branch, the American Federation of Government Employees told congressional leadership June 3.

“We appreciate your support of a strong national defense and your recognition of the importance of a professional, apolitical civil service supporting our uniformed warfighters,” Alethea Predeoux, director of AFGE’s Legislative Department wrote in a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee.

Legislation to fund the Department of Defense was introduced in the House March 27, and hearings scheduled this week for the Senate Armed Services Committee will include markups of the proposed 2021 funding legislation.

AFGE’s letter to House and Senate appropriators focuses first on the opportunity to protect collective bargaining rights for DoD employees, specifically by counteracting a memorandum published Feb. 21 that would enable the secretary of defense to remove collective bargaining protections for certain employees to promote national security.

“AFGE urges the inclusion of language in the FY 2021 NDAA that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to exclude the department, or any agency, activity or subdivision of the department, from coverage under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which outlines collective bargaining rights for federal employees,” the letter reads.

The letter also calls for Congress to include prohibitions and restrictions on arbitrary civilian workforce reductions, inappropriate privatization, misuse of temporary hiring authorities and proposals that would create “short-cuts” in the hiring process for certain positions.

AFGE also asked appropriators to include language in the 2021 bill that would prioritize the retention of DoD employees with seniority and veterans preference rather than a bell curve of performance evaluations when they do conduct reductions in force.

The NDAA could also have an impact on the wider population of federal employees, as it is often used as a vehicle to pass broad legislation and provisions.

As part of the NDAA for fiscal year 2020, Congress instituted a 12-week paid parental leave policy for most federal employees, and AFGE encouraged lawmakers to use the 2021 funding to expand that leave policy to include family leave that covers time off to take care of sick family and to ensure that the leave applies to non-Title 5 employees, such as “Federal Aviation Administration employees; certain Department of Veterans Affairs employees; District of Columbia Courts and Public Defender Services employees; certain employees of the Executive Office of the President and White House Office; non-screener personnel at the Transportation Security Administration; and Article I judges.”

AFGE also encouraged Congress to use the NDAA to align locality pay for hourly and salaried workers, so that employees working in the same location receive the same adjustments for cost of living.

Provisions under Senate committee consideration June 9 would allow for a 3 percent pay raise for U.S. troops, a metric by which the potential for a federal employee pay raise is often measured.

Though the 2021 fiscal year starts Oct. 1, 2020, the letter also encourages lawmakers to use the appropriations bill to address COVID-19 and other medical issues facing employees, namely by developing minimum nurse staffing requirements for military facilities, ensuring the acquisition of supplies such as personal protective equipment and presuming that illness such as cancer and heart disease are workplace related for federal firefighters.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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