House Approves Long Sought After Federal Hiring Reform

Architect of the Capitol

The House on Tuesday passed a bill to ease the transition from temporary employment to a full-time job for certain seasonal workers, marking a potential breakthrough in an issue lawmakers have attempted to address for more than two decades.

The Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act, which won unanimous support from House members, would give temporary seasonal employees at land management agencies a leg up when applying for permanent positions. The bill cleared the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March, and now moves to the Senate for final approval.

Currently, temporary seasonal employees at land management agencies can work at most six months per year. They do not receive retirement benefits and their career advancement opportunities are limited. Permanent seasonal employees -- who also only work part of the year but are placed on furlough status rather than being let go completely when their work is not required -- receive all the same (albeit pro-rated) benefits as regular, full-time workers.

Under the legislation, employees on temporary appointment at the Forest Service, Land Management Bureau, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Affairs Bureau and Reclamation Bureau would be eligible for internal, merit promotions currently only available to permanent workers. This would benefit roughly 10,000 employees looking to get ahead.

Existing law allows temporary employees to come back to their old positions for further seasonal work through a non-competitive process. They can only do that for the exact same job at the exact same step on the pay scale. Proponents of the workforce flexibility legislation have said that leads to employees getting stuck in the same gig, year after year. Temporary employees often take their jobs to get a foot in the door, but despite developing new expertise, proponents say the workers are never able to climb the ladder.

“It’s simply unfair after years of employment the temporary employee applying for permanent position jobs is no better off than someone off the street applying for a job,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on the House floor before the vote. He added the recent barrage of wildfires has demonstrated the value of the federal firefighting workforce.

The current barriers to permanent employment lead to hiring training costs for land management agencies, Connolly said, as current policy implicitly encourages high attrition rates. Lawmakers have looked at addressing the issue since at least 1993.

Connolly sponsored the bill with Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Don Young, R-Alaska. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has already introduced companion legislation in the Senate.  

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