The House’s fiscal 2024 funding plan for federal civilian agencies would force agencies to roll back telework, keep abortion out of employee health insurance plans and make pay contingent on compliance with Congressional demands.

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which will be considered in a hearing Thursday, sets funding for more than two dozen independent agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and White House offices, for the government fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, according to an executive summary released Wednesday.

What remains undecided is whether any of these provisions or the 5.2% pay raise Biden proposed for federal employees will make it into the final budge. Appropriations committees in the House and Senate are currently in the process of tweaking, or “marking up,” bills for approval by the committees.

Overall, Republicans, who control the chamber, plan to keep many federal agencies at or below their FY22 enacted level. According to the House committee led by Chairwoman Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas, funding would be about 20% below the President’s budget request and 7% below this year’s.

What Republicans have called measures to make agencies more efficient by curbing extraneous services, federal employees have called starving of workforce benefits and staff. In a union rally on Wednesday in front of the Capitol, Social Security employees said half of the public’s calls to the agency go unanswered because of understaffing and a decade-long erosion of the agency’s operating budget.

For others, the House’s plan would set White House salaries $26 million below the President’s request and $135 million below for the Office of Personnel Management, which administers retirement benefits, health insurance, hiring and onboarding, and personnel vetting for the 2.2-million large civilian workforce.

One such program receiving scrutiny is the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, under which coverage for abortion would be banned, according to the House’s 2024 budget.

This provision is inserted in appropriations language nearly every year and if included in the final version, would not apply in instances when the life of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape or incest.

Federal employee and abortion justice advocacy groups have been urging lawmakers to support coverage of abortions and other reproductive health procedures to make up for decades of lacking coverage related to pregnancy and poor support of working mothers.

Republicans haven’t budged on abortion, though, and the issue often turns into a stalemate whereby its defenders capitulate in order to avert a lapse in appropriations. The Republicans’ proposal also includes a ban on the District of Columbia paying for abortion services.

The bill also aims to stop FEHB plans from covering any surgeries or hormone therapies that would fall under “gender affirming care” — a subset of health care that OPM has encouraged providers to cover in the last three years.

Besides specific restrictions on health care coverage for civil servants, the bill also forces agencies to bring employees back to offices and restore telework and remote work levels to whatever they were in December 2019, or else an agency won’t get funding.

Lagging services

Before lawmakers this spring, OPM’s director blamed many of the agency’s lagging services on a lack of staff to meet demands of retirements, not on telework.

Other agencies that process large volumes of applications for benefits, like the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, have said that on top of more employees, they need better technology to either automate certain processes or ensure their systems are secure.

The proposal would eliminate funding for the Technology Modernization Fund at the General Services Administration, which has paid for projects like the U.S. Army’s cyber protection of technology at depots and arsenals, and a simplified log-in portal for veterans.

The plan also leaves out the $10-billion plus up at GSA that would fund the new FBI headquarters and other large-scale buildings that would house federal employees. In addition, the plan rejects funding for “green building” conversions by GSA, which the Washington Post reported would make 100 federal buildings all-electric or net-zero emissions with the help of the Inflation Reduction Act.

And in another provision, federal employees who do not comply with a congressional subpoena would have their salaries withheld. Bonuses, raises and promotions for the Treasury would also be frozen until the agency delivers an expenditure report on the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the bill does permit Treasury to make use of direct hire authorities to fill positions that can help process backlogs in tax returns.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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