Federal workforce bills worth watching in Congress this winter

When Congress isn't negotiating on spending caps or budget deals for this fiscal year and the next, members are considering other pieces of legislation that cou...

Congress had a busy first month of 2018.

Lawmakers have spent most of their time negotiating on immigration and border security issues and passing a slew of short-term continuing resolutions, leaving them little time to consider anything else.

And in the next few weeks, members of Congress will begin holding budgetary hearings for fiscal 2019 after the White House unveils its own budget proposal for next year.

Beyond the budget negotiations, here are a few federal workforce bills that are worth watching in the coming months.


The Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement (SWAMP) Act would authorize agencies to relocate their headquarters out of the Washington, D.C. area.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) introduced the bill, which  authorizes the General Services Administration to set up a process for allowing states to submit competitive bids for the relocation of a specific agency’s headquarters.

“Our legislation would help deliver on President [Donald] Trump’s promise to drain the swamp and at the same time allow more communities across the United States to benefit from added jobs and increased economic growth,” Messer said in a statement.

GSA must give the public a chance to comment on a relocation solicitation. The competitive bidding process must consider “the extent to which the relocation of such headquarters would impact the economy and workforce development of a state,” the state’s expertise in “carrying out activities substantially similar to the mission and goals of such agency” and if the relocation could implicate national security interests.

This legislation doesn’t come with any additional funding for relocation; GSA would use the proceeds it receives from selling a federal building or land to offset the cost of moving an agency’s headquarters out of the D.C. area.

The bill would also prevent agencies with headquarters in the Washington metropolitan area from beginning new construction or major renovation projects.

The legislation specifies the “Washington metropolitan area,” which includes the District of Columbia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, along with Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and Alexandria, Virginia.

Messer’s bill follows a growing theme in government. Former House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a resolution during his final year in Congress, which called on agency heads to recommend alternative locations for their organization’s headquarters outside of D.C.

Some agencies are already considering major moves. The Interior Department, for example, plans to organize and manage the agency based on 13 broad regions across the country. The reorganization plan may require some employees to move.

New life for labor-management forums

Another bill would essentially reinstate labor-management forums that President Trump had recently disbanded.

The Federal Labor-Management Partnership Act, which Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced last week, would recreate many of the provisions under former President Barack Obama’s executive order, which established a federal labor-management relations council and encouraged agency management to work more closely with labor unions.

Trump disbanded the council and revoked the executive order back in September, much to the disappointment of the largest federal labor unions.

Under Schatz’s bill, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, deputy director for Office of Management and Budget, chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as well as the deputy secretaries for the remaining agencies, would sit on the council.

The president would also appoint two members from the two largest federal employee unions, along with four individuals from other federal labor organizations.

The council would meet once every quarter, and members of the group would serve without compensation for a total of three years. Together, council members would advise the president on labor-management relations within the executive branch. Specifically, the council would help agencies foster their own, individual labor-management forums and would collect and disseminate guidance and best practices.

Both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union applauded the legislation. As the largest and second largest federal employee unions, respectively, both AFGE and NTEU would sit on the council.

“Labor-management councils are a simple, common sense way to open the lines of communication between federal employees and their bosses,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “The discussion forums are an ideal place to cordially resolve workplace issues and brainstorm ways to better serve their customers, the American taxpayers.”

The Senior Executives Association and Federal Managers Association would seemingly also have spots on the council.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are co-sponsors of the legislation. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced a companion bill in the House.

Anti-harassment measures in Congress

As the #MeToo movement prompts the entertainment, news and other industries to rethink their policies on sexual harassment in the workplace, Congress is attempting to do the same.

The House Administration Committee next week will consider a resolution that requires all employing offices within the chamber to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy.

The committee will also consider the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, which, among other provisions, would prevent members from using representational allowance funds to settle with staff members.

“We believe these comprehensive reforms will provide a positive change of culture within the Congress and improve the overall process of both preventing and reporting any harassment in the future,” committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said in a statement.

The House resolution would also create the Office of Employee Advocacy to help employees understand their rights under the Congressional Accountability Reform Act.

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