House committee gives feds another commuting option in face of SafeTrack repairs

House lawmakers are pushing a bill to further alleviate the pain Washington, D.C. metro area commuters are facing because of the SafeTrack program to fix problems with the subway system.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously approved the Transit Benefits Modernization Act (H.R. 6008) to let federal employees in the D.C. metro area user “digital transportation companies” such as Uber or Lyft, to get to work during the subway repair effort.

The benefits modernization act was one of 16 bills the committee approved Sept. 15.

The committee says about 40 percent of all riders of the Washington Metro system are federal employees during rush hour and they want to offer alternative means to get to work. Federal News Radio has been asking agencies for updates on plans to help their employees during the SafeTrack maintenance initiative.

The legislation would let agencies provide transit benefits to their employees who use the digital transportation network company’s services “in the same manner as such agency provides transit benefits to employees who use public transportation services within the Washington Metropolitan Area.”

Employees would have to sign an agreement not to accept other transit or parking benefits from the agency.

The amount of benefits would be based on how much the employee received on average over previous six months.

The program would be in place through Dec. 31, 2018.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced the bill July 6.

The Senate has not introduced a similar bill as of yet.

Additionally, the committee approved a bill that would let federal employees get reimbursed for using ride sharing services for official federal travel.

The Modernizing Government Travel Act (H.R. 5625) would require the General Services Administration to develop regulations within 90 days of the bill becoming law for federal employees to receive payment for using Uber or Lyft or similar services while on official travel.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced on Sept. 15 a companion bill that mirrors the House version.

“This legislation will help our government keep pace with the innovative technologies that drive our lives,” Carper said in a release. “By modernizing the way that federal employees travel, this commonsense and bipartisan bill will make the operations of government more efficient, while also ensuring that we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Increases in federal transit benefits have been stuck in neutral for many agencies. Even though Congress approved $255 a month for both transit and parking, several agencies have yet to apply the new amounts yet.

Along with these two transportation related bills, the committee also approved:

  • The EASY Savings Act of 2015 (H.R. 2532). This legislation received the most debate of all 16 bills under consideration. The bill would let federal employees get out of the “use it or lose it” mentality when it comes to funding at the end of any fiscal year. It would let employees decide not to spend unnecessarily and receive cash awards for that decision. Agencies would send 90 percent of the money back to the Treasury Department for deficit reduction and use 10 percent to reward employees. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, expressed some concerns about the bill, particularly what he called some unintended consequences that the committee hasn’t considered. He said the bill could put agency inspectors general in a tough position to determine whether the funds were used appropriately. Cummings said the bill also raises some constitutional concerns about agencies’ direct funding ability. Finally, Cummings said the bill also may create an incentive for employees not to spend needed money just to get the bonuses. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the committee, promised to work with the Democrats on the committee and in the House to get a bill that meets all their needs.
  • The GAO Task and Delivery Order Protest Authority Act of 2016 (H.R. 5995) would remove the end date for vendors to submit bid-protests to the Government Accountability Office on task orders worth more than $10 million. GAO has had this authority since 2008 and reaffirmed its right in 2011, but this legislation would permanently codify the protest rights.
  • H.R. 3779 would prohibit agencies from including the Social Security number of any individual on any document sent by mail unless the department or agency head determines that inclusion  is necessary. This follows policy from the Office of Management and Budget in 2007 requiring agencies to remove any and all unnecessary use of social security numbers from agency documents. It’s unclear how successful agencies have been in meeting this nine-year-old mandate.
  • The Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act (H.R. 5920). This bill would make permanent an expiring pilot program of whistleblower protections for certain civilian contractors with the federal government. It also would expand an existing limitation on defense and civilian contractors being reimbursed by the government for legal costs incurred in proceedings related to whistleblower reprisal.
  • The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 5790). This legislation would strengthen the rights and protections afforded to bureau employees to bring to the attention of auditors and agency officials potential examples of waste, fraud, and abuse. It also would broaden the categories of people who can receive a protected disclosure from whistleblowers, prohibits retaliation for participation in protected activity, and replaces the lengthy adjudication process.

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