House Democrats to investigate back pay issues after government shutdown

A small group of House Democrats are investigating why there have been so many challenges in issuing back pay to the 800,000 federal employees who missed two paychecks during the 35-day government shutdown.

Federal employees over the past weeks have described a variety of mistakes with their back pay, which multiple payroll providers have acknowledged and said they’re still resolving.

House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and freshman Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) have written to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert.

While they commended the administration’s push to issue retroactive payments to impacted federal employees as quickly as possible after the government shutdown ended in late January, members are skeptical of OPM’s guidance to payroll providers, which instructed them to make “simplifying adjustments” in order to act quickly.

“We have heard reports of many instances of shorted pay and inconsistent tax deductions that left workers unable to make mortgage or rent payments,” members wrote in a Feb. 12 letter. “They also received paychecks that did not reflect adjustments for missed insurance premiums, Thrift Savings Plan loan repayments, and court-ordered deductions, which have resulted in confusion and additional burdens on federal workers.”

The members want an update on the status of back pay for employees at each agency impacted by the recent government shutdown.

They asked how many employees at each agency haven’t received full or correct back payments — and for plans to ensure impacted employees are made completely whole. They’re also looking for answers to the following questions:

  1. For instances in which paychecks were issued in amounts less than that owed to federal employees, what steps will be taken to ensure that all remaining amounts owed to workers will be paid in full?
  2. What options do federal workers have for retroactively paying wage garnishments which were halted by payroll processors because of the shutdown?
  3. What information has been provided by agencies to workers regarding these options?
  4. For instances in which there have been inconsistent federal tax deductions between pay periods, what information have agencies provided to workers to help them ensure that the deductions are accurate?

Agencies took a similar approach in issuing back pay to employees after the 16-day government shutdown back in 2013. But perhaps due to sheer length and complexity of the most recent lapse, agencies are still struggling to repay employees correctly.

Some 1,000 employees at the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, didn’t receive back pay until this past Friday, the American Federation of Government Employees said earlier this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also struggled to repay all impacted employees.

And employees from the Transportation Security Administration and Transportation Department have written to Federal News Network to describe mistakes with their back pay.

Meanwhile, in a Feb. 13 speech on the Senate floor, Mark Warner (D-Va.) appealed to his colleagues to avoid another government shutdown this Friday, invoking some of these same issues, while also focusing on federal contractors who have yet to be made whole.

“The number of small businesses, women owned business, minority owned business, veteran owned businesses who tried through this last 35-day shutdown to keep their workers on payroll, they had to take that money out of their business pockets to try to make ends meet,” Warner said. “But a lot of them, after a couple weeks, couldn’t afford to do that. Those businesses shut down. Years — in certain cases decades — of work down the drain, not because they did something that was mismanagement, not because they did something that was irresponsible, not because they weren’t providing the taxpayers with the full value of their work. But because we here in Congress, and this White House couldn’t come to a common agreement on the most basic responsibility of government, to keep the doors open and the lights on.”

Warner was one of several senators who introduced legislation last month that would guarantee retroactive pay for low-wage federal contractors.

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