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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Protecting Federal Employees' Pay, Hope for Paid Parental Leave and More

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The White House has again signaled that President Trump intends to overhaul federal employee compensation and move work to the private sector, this time including those reforms as part of a promise to “innovate and update government.” This clearly doesn’t bode well for civil servants’ pay, retirement benefits or job security. “There’s going to be a respect for taxpayers in this administration, so that whether it's salaries or actual positions or programs, [Trump’s] going to have a very, very tough look at how we’re operating government, how many positions they're in, what people are getting paid,” said Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  

But in one silver lining, a group of Democratic senators has made a pledge of its own. The 12 senators – led by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii – introduced a resolution (S. Res. 51) “recognizing the contributions of federal employees” and vowing to fight back against any legislation or Trump administration action that would “erode fair compensation for federal employees” by cutting pay, raising health insurance premiums or “unnecessarily or irresponsibly reducing the overall federal workforce.” The senators also said they would combat attempts to reduce retirement benefits, undermine federal employee unions, eliminate due process rights for federal employees and outsource inherently governmental work.

The resolution, reported by Federal News Radio, now has support from a total of 15 senators, all Democrats. There are also separate movements to carve out more exemptions to Trump’s hiring freeze. Some House Democrats, for instance, would like to ensure that all veterans are excluded from the directive.

Though it may prove tricky to fully protect federal employee pay and retirement, there again appears to be momentum for expanding a different type of benefit: paid parental leave. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday reintroduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R. 1022), which would provide civil servants with six weeks of paid time off following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. New federal parents currently are eligible for 12 weeks of time off under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but that time is unpaid and they may have to dip into their sick and annual leave to avoid a major gap in paychecks.

Former President Obama in January 2015 signed a memorandum directing agencies to advance federal employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members. He also advocated for legislation granting six weeks’ paid leave, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., took the lead in the House, as she has been doing for more than 15 years. Despite some initial optimism about a potential breakthrough, however, legislative efforts again stalled during the last Congress.  

This time around, nearly all of the bill’s 46 co-sponsors to date are Democrats, but Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a federal employee-heavy district in Northern Virginia, has signed on and is helping Maloney to spearhead the effort.

“As a young mom when I was a federal employee, I was acutely aware of the balance between raising a family and building a career,” Comstock said in a statement. “That is why I am teaming up with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney… Extending paid parental leave to federal workers helps diminish the risk of real economic hardships as well as retain the best federal employees from competition in the private sector.”

There is also the potential for support from the White House. President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has said she will make family issues including maternity leave a priority. Maloney has reached out to Ivanka about the legislation, according to a report in Federal News Radio. “She said she was interested in meeting with us and talking to us about it,” Maloney told FNR. “She has not gotten back to me. She’s very busy I’m sure.” 

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