No surprise, the annual defense authorization bill includes a smattering of provisions and tidbits that may, if passed into law, impact civilian federal employees next year.
The House on Tuesday easily passed its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act with a 295-125 vote.
The president has threatened to veto the legislation, but Congress has managed to pass the annual defense policy bill every year for the past six decades. The Senate is still considering its own version of the 2021 NDAA.
For federal employees, the 2021 House bill already included corrections to the paid parental leave program, which inadvertently left out portions of the workforce from the 2020 NDAA. The latest version would 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.
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But as usual, the annual defense authorization bill contains a few nuggets for civilian federal employees. Here are a few to watch:
House members are recognizing the pandemic’s potential impact on federal employees and their annual leave balances.
An amendment from Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) would allow federal employees whose work has been impacted by the ongoing pandemic to carry over any annual leave they’d otherwise have to forfeit at the end of the year.
The measure would declare the coronavirus pandemic as an “exigency of public business” for the purposes of restoring annual leave lost on or after the date of the legislation’s enactment.
Under existing policy, most federal employees can carry up to 30 days of leave to the next year. Employees usually lose any accrued leave that’s left at the end of the year.
Current statute does allow agencies to restore forfeited annual leave to federal employees, but only in specific circumstances. Agencies could, according to existing regulations from the Office of Personnel Management, restore lost annual leave when there’s an “exigency of public business.” This may include scenarios where there’s an urgent need for an employee to be at work and therefore can’t use his or her annual leave.
Wexton introduced a similar measure as standalone legislation in May.
OPM acknowledged challenges with annual leave earlier this summer. The agency is planning to release new regulations, which would allow certain federal employees to “schedule” and carry over annual leave that they’d otherwise have to forfeit.
Neither the forthcoming OPM regulations nor Wexton’s amendment are intended for employees who aren’t working directly on the government’s pandemic response and whose travel plans were canceled due to travel or other restrictions.
The House NDAA also includes the full text of the Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act, named for the late Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Cummings introduced the legislation before he died last year. He had been working on a version of this bill for several years.
The anti-discrimination act requires agencies to establish an equal employment opportunity program separate from their human resources or general counsel offices, giving EEO leaders direct access to their agency heads.
Agencies have more requirements to report on discrimination and retaliation when they happen. Agencies, for example, must establish a system for tracking discrimination complaints, as well as a mechanism to publish findings of discrimination or retaliation on their websites.
In addition, the anti-discrimination bill gives new responsibilities to the Office of Special Counsel, which must accept and review matters where an agency issues an appellate decision involving issues of discrimination or retaliation against a federal employee.
Finally, the bill prohibits the use of non-disclosure agreements that attempt to prevent federal employees from reporting waste, fraud, abuse or retaliation.
The House took another step toward codifying the Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program, as members included the FedRAMP Authorization Act in the 2021 defense policy bill.
The measure came from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who had introduced standalone legislation last year.
Codifying the FedRAMP will give the program a formal standing for congressional review and ongoing improvements, Connolly said Tuesday at a Carasoft virtual event.
“We’re trying to eliminate the redundancies that so many private sector firms experience in going from one federal agency to another and having to start the process all over again,” Connolly said.
Beyond codifying the program, the bill will require agencies to provide a “presumption of adequacy” to vendors that are already FedRAMP-certified from other agencies.
For Connolly, he’d like to see the General Services Administration process applications more quickly and collapse the overall timeline for granting certification to vendors. With FedRAMP codified into law, he anticipates Congress will be able to better monitor any progress.
“We know that there are people who have spent two or three years on the process and millions of dollars,” Connolly said. “That defeats the whole purpose of having FedRAMP. Our legislation is designed to try to reverse that problem, go back to the original intent but also monitor performance. Are we in fact accomplishing the goals we set both in the origination of FedRAMP and in this legislation?”
Congress may, Connolly said, fold FedRAMP progress into the routine Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) scorecards.
For GSA, it does note some progress with FedRAMP. There are close to 200 authorized cloud products on the marketplace today — nearly double the number from two years ago, Ashley Mahan, GSA’s FedRAMP director, said Tuesday.
FedRAMP products have been reused some 1,700 times so far, better than 891 reuses from 2018. And by the end of September, Mahan anticipates agencies will have added 60 new cloud products in 2020. Last year, agencies added 45 new cloud offerings.