Lawmakers have teed up two familiar bills that differ in their priorities, but that both have implications for federal employees, as well as retirees from the public sector.
The first bill, the Chance to Compete Act, aims to revamp longstanding challenges in the federal hiring process. The House passed the bill Tuesday evening in a vote of 422 to 2.
The bipartisan legislation would expand the use of shared assessments among different agencies, in effect trying to expand cross-agency hiring. Also under the legislation, subject matter experts (SMEs) would be able to conduct job interviews and be more directly involved in the federal hiring process. Finally, the bill would pivot hiring managers’ focus toward candidates’ skills and relevant experience, rather than their educational backgrounds and self-assessments.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) previously introduced the Chance to Compete Act last year. This Congress, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) reintroduced the bipartisan bill on Jan. 9, in partnership with Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
“Every hardworking taxpayer in this country deserves a federal government that’s built upon a foundation that breeds efficiency — and to achieve that end, the outdated federal hiring process must be reformed,” Foxx said in a press statement. “In its current state, this archaic process serves more as a deterrent to attracting talented individuals, and it seriously undermines the federal workforce’s ability to properly serve the American people.”
The bill last Congress made significant progress, by clearing the House and advancing out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Although it gained bipartisan support in both chambers, the legislation ultimately did not pass.
But the Chance to Compete Act has since gained more momentum, as well as bipartisan support. Officials at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association said they’re hopeful for the legislation to get passed this Congress.
“Governmentwide data from the Office of Personnel Management from recent years have shown that more than half of all competitive examining certificates have been returned without a hire being made, leading agencies to turn to 105 separate hiring authorities for many — or perhaps most — of their hires to meet critical needs,” NARFE National President William Shackelford said in a Jan. 23 letter to Congress. “This bill addresses those issues by providing commonsense steps to improve competitive hiring practices and increase hiring efficiency.”
“Skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically underrepresented groups,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in May.
NARFE Staff Vice President for Policy and Programs John Hatton said the introduction and consideration of the bill in the House this early in the year bodes well for its prospects, especially after control of the chamber flipped.
“The Senate should build off the committee consensus from last Congress and send the House bill to the president’s desk in short order,” Hatton told Federal News Network.
The Senior Executives Association, a federal executive advocacy group, applauded the House’s passage of the legislation.
“Applying modern assessments, integrating subject matter experts, and using valid candidate certificates are important steps in reforming an archaic federal hiring process. These reforms should save American taxpayers money by greater positioning agencies to attract, recruit and retain better talent,” SEA Chairman for the Board of Directors Marcus Hill said in a statement. “As this legislation moves to the Senate, we desire to see it further fortified with minor amendments to expand qualification standards and improve information sharing of qualified candidates amongst the agencies … The Chance to Compete Act represents progress in the right direction.”
Another push to repeal Social Security’s “evil twins”
A separately reintroduced bill has continued a now decades-long push from bipartisan lawmakers to change part of the 1935 Social Security Act.
The Social Security Fairness Act would revoke two longstanding provisions impacting the retirement savings of a specific subset of federal retirees.
The first provision, called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), originated in 1983, and it reduces Social Security benefits for federal employees and other public sector workers. Specifically, the WEP affects anyone who receives an annuity from their time in government, but who also worked in a Social Security-covered job, typically a private sector position.
The WEP impacts roughly two million individuals, including employees in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) who were hired to the federal government prior to 1984.
The second provision, the Government Pension Offset (GPO), dates back to 1977, and it reduces or sometimes eliminates Social Security benefits of the spouses, widows or widowers of an individual with a government pension. If two-thirds of a government pension is more than the value of the Social Security benefit, then the GPO can entirely eliminate the benefit for affected individuals.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced the Social Security Fairness Act, aiming to revoke both the WEP and the GPO on Jan. 9, partnering with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) on the legislation.
“We need to be incentivizing people to go and be firefighters, to go into public service. These are honorable professions, and as a result of this 40-year-old, ill-advised provision … we’re penalizing people from going into public service, penalizing people from going into law enforcement,” Graves has said about the bill.
Last Congress, the Social Security Fairness Act gained broad bipartisan support, with 305 cosponsors in the House and 42 in the Senate. In the House, the number of cosponsors was well beyond the threshold to propel the legislation to a floor vote, but it was instead taken up in a committee conference and ultimately not passed.
This year’s version of the bill has already gained 69 cosponsors — a number that is continuing to increase.
“The more support it gains, the more pressure it puts on committee and chamber leaders to finally provide some relief for public servants affected by these unfair penalties,” Hatton said.
The House has since referred the newest iteration of the bill to the Ways and Means Committee.