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Shutdown Threat Deferred, Uber Rides Reimbursed and More

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President Trump tweeted that the government could use a shutdown this fall. President Trump tweeted that the government could use a shutdown this fall. Evan Vucci/AP

The uncertainty surrounding whether the government will remain open may soon be over, as congressional leaders have reached a funding agreement that would run through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

As Eric Katz reports, the omnibus spending deal that the House passed Wednesday and the Senate is expected to pass Thursday includes some of President Trump’s request in terms of a boost in Defense and Homeland Security spending. But some of his other priorities were largely ignored, particularly funding for the border wall and cuts to domestic agencies.

Don’t breathe too easily, though. Trump -- apparently dissatisfied with the deal brokered by lawmakers -- tweeted Tuesday that it was only reached because of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate and that “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

In other news on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation (H.R. 274) Tuesday requiring the federal government to reimburse employees for work-related travel via ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

The bill requires the General Services Administration to come up with rules allowing federal workers to expense such travel, which also includes bicycle rental services like D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare. GSA had updated its Federal Travel Regulations last year to say that agencies have the option to reimburse ridesharing travel, but this legislation would make it a requirement.

The bill passed in the House in January and is now headed to Trump’s desk.

Another bill with bipartisan support that could be on the horizon would extend up-front sick leave for disabled veterans working for the federal government to a key agency that had been left out during a previous effort to secure the benefit.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, would expand a federal program providing a full year of sick leave to disabled vets who join the civilian workforce to include the Veterans Health Administration.

Why wasn’t the VHA included the first time around? The existing legislation applies only to newly-hired feds who are covered under Title 5 leave provisions, but many jobs within the Veterans Affairs Department are not covered under Title 5.

Typically, when someone joins the federal government, they accrue sick leave over time for the first year on the job—typically four hours of leave per pay period for full-time workers. The bill has been referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where it awaits a hearing.

Over in the executive branch, employees at the State Department are bracing for cuts, as Secretary Rex Tillerson reportedly plans to cut 2,300 career diplomats and employees, which would amount to 9 percent of the agency’s American workforce. According to Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams, 1,700 of the cuts would occur through attrition, and the agency will consider offering buyouts to 600 people.

The move is first major step toward meeting Trump’s budget goal, as outlined in March’s budget outline, to cut State’s funding by 28.5 percent from fiscal 2016.

In a speech to State Department employees Wednesday, Tillerson did not directly address the cuts, but acknowledged that the department’s reorganization would be tough. “Change like this is really stressful for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s nothing easy about it, and I don’t want to diminish in any way the challenges I know this presents for individuals, it presents to families, it presents to organizations.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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