Telework, relocations and everything else you need to know about the 2020 spending bills

The 2020 spending bills urge the Social Security Administration to reinstate its telework program for operations employees, but they're silent on collective bar...

Congress appears to be on track to pass two sweeping “minibus” spending bills just before Friday’s funding deadline.

Both “minibus” spending bills cleared the House Tuesday. The Senate is expected to consider both spending bills Thursday.

Most importantly, passage of these bills would prevent a second government shutdown in 2019 and would fund all agencies for the rest of the fiscal year.

In total, the bills cover some $1.4 trillion in spending for 2020, and most notably for civilian employees, include a 3.1% federal pay raise, the largest in a decade.

But the bills also fund a smattering of other agencies and policy initiatives.

The Census Bureau, for example, would receive $7.6 billion, $1.4 billion more than what the president requested, for the upcoming decennial count.

The IRS would get more than $11.5 billion in 2020, including $30 million more for its ongoing business systems modernization, $150 million more for enforcement efforts and $20 million more for taxpayer services over the previous year.

The spending bills also fund the upcoming presidential transition with $9.2 million for the General Services Administration’s transition service.

Besides the federal pay raise, here are several other notable provisions in the two “minibus” spending bills that may interest federal employees.

SSA ‘urged’ to reinstate telework

Congress has “urged” the Social Security Administration to develop a new telework plan for its operations workforce, which lost its telework program late last month.

“SSA is urged to develop a telework plan for operations employees as quickly as practicable and to brief the committees on the status of efforts to reinstate telework within 60 days of enactment,”  according to one of the appropriations reports.

The agency had announced plans to cancel the telework program for some 11,000-to-12,000 employees within SSA one day after the start of a new contract with the American Federation of Government Employees.

SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul cited the agency’s customer service challenges as the main reason for his decision, but employees said they weren’t given enough time to make arrangements to adjust to life without telework.

A group of House lawmakers in November had asked Saul to further explain his rationale for his decision to end the telework program, which had been in place since 2013 for some operations employees.

A firm stance on OPM

The Office of Personnel Management will walk away with a total of $330 million for the year, including $14 million set aside for the agency’s ongoing IT modernization efforts.

OPM had initially gotten an additional $48 million earlier in the year, which the Trump administration has said is necessary to cover lost revenue created from the transfer of the National Background Investigations Bureau and its security clearance to the Defense Department.

In addition, Congress didn’t provide the $50 million the administration had initially requested to carry out the OPM merger with the General Services Administration.

The report accompanying the spending bill urged OPM to “fill critical vacancies such as informational technology and human resources positions.” As Federal News Network has previously reported, the merger has created uncertainty and anxiety and has driven top talent from the agency.

Congress on Tuesday passed specific language prohibiting the transfer of OPM’s statutory functions and activities to GSA or the Office of Management and Budget until the National Academy of Public Administration can conduct a top-to-bottom review of the agency and recommend options for its future.

No funding for BLM relocation

The spending bills don’t provide funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s planned relocation to Grand Junction, Colorado, and other western states.

Congress instead directed the bureau to begin monthly briefings on the BLM relocation with appropriations committees.

“The department has not fulfilled its obligation to fully communicate the organizational and financial details of the reorganization and relocation of the bureau’s Washington, D.C., headquarters,” the bill report reads. “It has not provided bureau employees, Congress, agency stakeholders or the general public with adequate information regarding this move. Furthermore, it has not explained how it will sustain its operations and remain an effective land management agency following the anticipated loss of much of its senior management and the expected significant attrition of its workforce caused by the reorganization.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has previously acknowledged the need to support relocating or departing BLM employees with the incentives and buyouts they’re owed but said Interior has failed to meet its obligations to share information about the move with its congressional overseers.

Quiet on collective bargaining

The spending bills are relatively quiet on collective bargaining protections, a measure which the House had passed this summer in its version of the financial services and general government appropriations bill.

That language would have prohibited agencies from implementing or enforcing any collective bargaining agreement, term or article that wasn’t mutually agreed to by both a department and its federal union.

Several agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services and Education have both implemented proposals that their unions — the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees — said they never agreed to.

In most cases, agencies implemented the validated proposals from the Federal Service Impasses Panel.

Lawmakers also directed the Federal Labor Relations Authority to examine the impacts of the president’s executive orders on collective bargaining, official time and employees.

Workforce concerns

Congress expressed concern about the workforce gaps at a variety of agencies, from the Department of Veterans Affairs to Homeland Security.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, for example, will get an additional $7.1 million above its request to expedite hiring, training and workforce development efforts of cyber professionals at the agency.

“CISA is directed to develop a consolidated plan that defines a path to educate the cybersecurity workforce of the future and develop content that includes partnering with at least two academic institutions of higher education to cultivate a non-traditional workforce, focused on reaching rural, minority, gender diverse and veteran populations,” the bill report reads. “These efforts could include cybersecurity competitions and associated costs to identify cyber excellence throughout the nation and within the federal government.”

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