House committee clears NDAA with federal paid parental leave fix

Months after passing the original law late last year, Congress is on track to rectify a previous mistake and guarantee paid parental leave coverage to all federal employees.

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which easily cleared the House Armed Services Committee late Wednesday night, contains the provisions needed to extend paid parental leave benefits to all federal employees.

Specifically, the provisions ensure paid parental leave coverage to employees at the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and Veterans Health Administration, as well as any other Title 38 employees.

Congressional employees, Article I judges, presidential appointees and employees of the District of Columbia courts and Public Defender Service are also covered in the NDAA provisions.

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These provisions would go in effect as if they were immediately enacted after the passage of last year’s NDAA, meaning that an FAA or VHA employee expecting a new child on or after Oct. 1 should be entitled to receive paid parental leave benefits.

The paid paid parental leave program is supposed to go into effect on Oct.1, 2020.

The president had signed FEPLA into law with much fanfare at the end of 2019. The law, which was highly lauded as a “historic” achievement, provides up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees.

But in the rush to finish the annual defense policy bill before the year ended, Congress inadvertently left out several groups of federal employees. Lawmakers must pass some kind of legislation to ensure paid parental leave coverage to those employees.

There’s also interest in the Senate in making necessary technical corrections to the paid parental leave program so that all federal employees are covered.

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Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, introduced a similar amendment that would also ensure paid parental leave coverage for all employees.

The Senate is currently considering amendments to the 2021 NDAA, and votes are expected to continue through Thursday.

But with members including the paid parental leave fix in the House bill itself — rather than relying on the amendment process to extend coverage— the corrections have a reasonably high chance of final passage.

The committee’s version of the NDAA is expected to head to the House floor for consideration some time later this month, although an exact timeline hasn’t been set.

The House NDAA doesn’t, as perhaps some had hoped, extend the eligibility window for federal employees who are expecting a new child before the Oct. 1 implementation date. A group of House Democrats had called on congressional leaders back in May to retroactively extend paid parental leave benefits to employees who had experienced the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a new child between Dec. 20, 2019 and October of this year.

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But such a measure isn’t part of the 2021 NDAA as it currently stands, and House members haven’t introduced standalone legislation to retroactively extend paid parental leave benefits either.

The Office of Personnel Management was expected to publish draft regulations on the implementation of the paid parental leave law in late spring, the agency has said. Only then will the public have an opportunity to read and comment on the benefits and their implementation.

To date, OPM hasn’t yet published those regulations.

In the earliest days of the current pandemic, OPM had told a federal employee union the new paid parental leave program would be ready without delay at the Oct. 1 implementation deadline.