Federal employees got one step closer Tuesday to having a wider array of uses for their paid parental leave, as the House Oversight Committee voted 24 to 16 to favorably report the bill expanding such leave to the full House for a vote.

Federal employees were granted 12 weeks of paid parental leave beginning in October 2019, which enabled employees to take paid time off for the birth or placement of a child in their household.

That leave is based on mandates in the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires all employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave to employees, as well as to address serious medical needs of the employee or a member of the person’s family.

The legislation advanced July 20 would ensure that the federal government’s 12 weeks of paid leave would also apply to that second category.

“Unpaid leave is not a viable option for many federal workers,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who introduced the bill.

“In this bill, all of the current eligibility criteria from the FMLA would remain intact. There is a 12 month serious service requirement, and an employee would need to put in a request to the agency they work for and provide any necessary justification. And 12 weeks per year would remain the limit that an employee could take for paid family and medical leave.”

Despite its advancement, many Republican committee members criticized the addition of another “perk” for civil service employment paid by American tax dollars.

A Congressional Budget Office estimation for the bill, released July 16, predicted that its passage would cost the government approximately $53 million over the next 10 years.

“There is an incredible cost to not passing paid comprehensive leave: Talent exits our federal workforce and sometimes never comes back; when it does come back there are costs to retrain it; there are costs to productivity; there are costs to put in place replacement employees, because people exit the workplace permanently, rather than in a planned and temporary way under a limited set of circumstances,” said Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.

But Republicans questioned the validity of CBO estimates and their lack of USPS cost calculations, arguing that federal employees can already use advance sick leave to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one.

Sick leave available to federal employees does not have the level of flexibility offered by this paid leave legislation. A federal employee would have to work nearly five years without taking a single sick day to accrue the same amount of leave as guaranteed in the bill. And though an employer may grant employees sick leave in advance before they earned that time, that advance is capped at 30 days, meaning that the employee must still have worked full time without using a sick day for nearly 2.5 years to reach the same level of time off included in the bill. That employee would also not be able to get any more sick days for the rest of that year.

The legislation would expand the use of such leave to cover the deployment of a military family member, grief from a miscarriage or stillbirth, and recovery from surrogacy, which are not directly outlined in federal sick leave.

But Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., criticized the shift from a Republican approach to federal employment under Donald Trump to the Biden administration that, “rather than holding federal employees accountable, they want to protect poorly performing federal employees while dramatically increasing their benefits.”

“Frankly for the last decade, my Republican friends on the other side of the aisle, especially when they’re in the majority, never missed an opportunity to demonize the federal employee,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

“They’re not public servants, they’re ‘bureaucrats.’ They don’t have a benefit package, like other employees around America, they have ‘perks.’ The language is deliberate to demonize federal employees, to somehow make them fat bureaucrats who don’t do a job.”

The committee did unanimously approve some pieces of federal-focused legislation Tuesday that would enable inspectors general to continue working in the event of a shutdown and would instruct OPM to establish occupational series for federal positions in software development, software engineering, data science and data management.

The committee also passed another contentious bill that would bring administrative law judges back under the competitive service classification, rather than the excepted service that they moved to under a Trump administration executive order.

“For decades, ALJ’s were previously hired through a competitive service appointment process that was administered through the Office of Personnel Management. Because this process was run by an agency that was considered independent of the hiring agency, it helped to ensure that the pool of available ALJ’s was both qualified and impartial,” said Connolly.

“In July of 2018, however, executive order 13843 removed them from the competitive service and placed them in the excepted service, outside the reach of normal hiring and employment protections and not subject to requirements for minimum qualifications.”

Under that legislation, agencies would once again hire ALJs from a pool of qualified candidates established by OPM, and those qualifications would include a license to practice law and at least seven years of experience administering law.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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