At-Will Employment, Workforce Cuts and Other Bills From Congress’ First Week

Rep. Todd Rokita, R- Ind., is behind the at-will employment proposal. Rep. Todd Rokita, R- Ind., is behind the at-will employment proposal. Michael Conroy / AP

Lawmakers have wasted no time introducing measures to overhaul the civil service and adjust the size of the federal workforce, putting forward several pieces of legislation in the first week of the 115th Congress to make wide-ranging reforms.

Perhaps most notably, Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., laid out his plan to reintroduce the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act to turn all new federal workers into at-will employees. First presented in October during the last session of Congress, the measure would strip new federal hires from due process protections, instead allowing supervisors to fire them without notice or the opportunity to appeal. It would also allow agencies to immediately suspend current feds without warning and would prohibit any employees not receiving top marks on their performance reviews from getting a pay raise. 

The at-will portion of the measure would only apply to new employees hired one year after its enactment, and allow agency heads to fire workers “without notice or right to appeal.” Employees fired under certain circumstances would retain appeal rights, but only to one agency. An excepted employee could, for example, appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but not both. Agencies would be required to notify new hires they are at-will employees upon onboarding them.

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Other provisions of the bill would prevent feds found guilty of a work-related felony from collecting a retirement pension and allow agency heads to cut Senior Executive Service employees’ pay by downgrading them to a General Schedule position. It also would end the practice of official time, which allows employees to conduct mediation-type union activity while receiving a federal salary and working in a federal workspace.

The bill earned immediate rebuke from federal employee advocates, who said it would effectively end the apolitical civil service.

Already, the first bill approved by the House would require the Veterans Affairs Department to permanently note all reprimands and admonishments on employee records, and a resolution setting the rules for the House this session will allow lawmakers to eliminate federal employees’ jobs or reduce their pay through the appropriations process.

Here is a look at some other bills federal employees will want to keep an eye on, introduced during lawmakers' first week in session:

  • Cutting Defense civilians: Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., put forward the Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees Act. It would require the Defense Department to trim 15 percent of its civilian positions by fiscal 2020, and to maintain that staffing level through fiscal 2025. This would mean the Pentagon would shed more than 110,000 civilians through buyouts, early retirements and reductions in force. The bill would also require the department to shed about 17 percent of its Senior Executive Service.
  • Retirement benefits: Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Fair Return for Employees on Their Initial Retirement Earned (RETIRE) Act to ensure federal employees with “physically demanding jobs” do not lose out on retirement benefits if they are forced to end their careers due to a work-related injury before becoming retirement eligible. Employees in “6c”-designated positions receive special retirement perks, and the RETIRE Act would guarantee they do not lose those benefits due to injury.
  • Agency-wide cuts: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., presented three different bills Tuesday to slash agency spending across the board by 1 percent, 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The cuts would only exempt the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments.
  • Bonuses: Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., put forward a measure that would require the Veterans Affairs Department to revoke any bonuses paid to employees involved in electronic wait list manipulations.
  • Uber: Lawmakers have been attempting for a couple years to incorporate ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft into federal employees’ transportation, and last year the General Services Administration issued guidance telling agencies to reimburse their employees who use the companies for work purposes. A bipartisan group of House members led by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is now looking to up the ante, aiming to provide transit benefits for feds who use the app.
  • Sunsetting agencies: Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced a bill to create the Federal Agency Sunset Commission, which would review every agency in federal government to determine if it should be eliminated or otherwise reorganized.
  • Two in, one out: On the campaign trail, now President-elect Donald Trump promised to require every federal agency to remove two rules or regulations for every new one issued. Sen. Dan Sullivan, D-Alaska, introduced legislation to implement that proposal, though federal regulatory experts have said Trump will be able to implement the policy through executive action.
  • U.S. Postal Service: Two resolutions, one from a Republican and one from a Democrat, would ensure the mailing agency does not cut services but eliminating a day of delivery or phasing out to-the-door drop offs. Their early introductions demonstrate the resistance lawmakers set on comprehensive postal reform still face. 
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