Back pay for low-wage federal contractors clears House

A House-passed minibus of five appropriations bills includes back pay for low wage contractors impacted by this year's government shutdown.

Back pay for low-wage federal contractors impacted during this year’s 35-day government shutdown is one step closer to reality.

The House included a provision that would provide back pay to certain federal contractors in a five-appropriation “minibus” package, which cleared the chamber Tuesday.

The minibus included Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations, as well as the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Environment and Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration bills.

The back-pay provision for low-wage contractors mirrored the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act, which had at least 71 cosponsors in the House.

The bill instructs each agency impacted by this year’s government shutdown to adjust the price of contracts that were suspended, delayed, interrupted or stopped altogether to restore pay and leave to low-wage contractor employees who lost hours and compensation during any portion of the lapse.

“[It’s] a first step to providing fairness and equity to a portion of the government contractor community,” Alan Chvotkin, vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, said Wednesday in a statement. “We urge the Senate to prioritize similar legislation to make whole all contractor employees still facing a financial hardship brought on through no fault of their own. It is the right thing to do.”

The White House last week said it didn’t support the back-pay provision, arguing that it would ignore important principles of federal contracting. Implementation, the administration said, would be expensive and time-consuming and could lead to additional waste, fraud and improper payments.

PSC, however, rebuked the administration’s claims.

“Reimbursement of costs incurred is completely consistent with the government’s acquisition system and current federal practices,” Chvotkin said. “Federal agencies are equipped to manage both claims under contracts where there was a stop work order issued, as well as contractor requests for equitable adjustments. Both are a routine part of government contractor post-award contract administration that would allow for a seamless implementation of backpay quickly and accurately.”

With the minibus’ passage on Tuesday, the House has cleared nine of 12 appropriations bills for 2020. The chamber is expected to pass the financial services and general government bill before the end of the week, bringing the total to 10.

The Senate hasn’t introduced or marked up any appropriations bills for 2020.

The financial services bill includes a 3.1% federal pay raise for civilian employees. It would also block the administration’s proposed merger of the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration.

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