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House Passes Defense Policy Bill with Provision to Block OPM-GSA Merger

The must-pass legislation also includes amendments granting paid family leave and protecting feds’ health insurance during shutdowns.

The House voted 220-197 Friday to pass the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes yet another provision to block the Trump administration from merging the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration.

The must-pass annual defense policy bill is often the vehicle by which lawmakers try to include legislation that otherwise might languish. Lawmakers considered more than 400 amendments on the floor this week.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., proposed an amendment that would prevent the Trump administration from taking any administrative action to implement its controversial proposal to send most of OPM’s functions to GSA, and vest all of its existing regulatory authority in a non-Senate confirmed presidential appointment within the Office of Management and Budget. A similar provision was included in an appropriations package passed by the House last month.

“The administration’s inadequate plan to dismantle OPM has been a disaster,” Connolly said on the House floor Wednesday. “On June 27, we had another hearing on the lack of documentation provided by OPM, and at that hearing, they admitted that they’ve failed to determine whether actions they are already taking to eliminate OPM are even legal.”

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said that while he stands with Connolly and other House Democrats in the fight to get documentation justifying the merger proposal, blocking the move now would be premature.

“Admittedly, OMB has not shown that it’s an effective way to address the many problems facing OPM, and further, it’s true that despite repeated requests for the legal analysis on the administration’s authorities and cost benefit analyses, the Oversight and Reform Committee continues to wait for the supporting information,” Hice said. “We’ve supported that effort to get that information so we can do our job. The whole challenge we’re facing is indeed ongoing, and while I share [Connolly’s] frustration with the lack of information to inform our committee, this amendment is not the answer. We have the same goal—we want to improve services for federal employees and get retirement benefits for retirees—but while we search for a solution, we need to keep all options on the table.”

On Thursday, the House voted 247-182 in favor of Connolly’s amendment. Fifteen Republicans crossed party lines to approve the provision, as well as newly Independent Rep. Justin Amash, Mich.

The House by voice vote also approved the inclusion of a number of other measures affecting the federal workforce. After more than a decade of introducing similar legislation, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., secured passage of her proposal to grant all federal workers with 12 weeks of paid family leave related to the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, or to help care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious health condition.

That language also would provide 12 weeks to paid leave to feds if they themselves experience a serious health condition, or because of an “urgent need’ related to a spouse, child or parent’s call to active duty in the armed forces.

The House also approved provisions that would protect federal employees’ ability to access or change their health insurance coverage in the event of a government shutdown. Currently, federal employees often cannot make changes to their Federal Employee Health Benefits Program coverage during a lapse in appropriations, as HR workers responsible for processing such requests are typically furloughed. Additionally, if a shutdown lasts for more than two consecutive pay periods, insurers that participate in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program and the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program bill feds directly for their premiums, putting employees at risk of their coverage lapsing.

Another provision passed by the House mirrors the language of the Fair Chance Act, introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. That bill codifies existing OPM policy not to ask federal job candidates about past criminal convictions until they receive a conditional offer of employment, and it expands that policy to apply to federal contractors.

Also included in the bill is a provision intended to prevent a recent phenomenon where, in the absence of any Senate-confirmed members, the Merit Systems Protection Board could not issue temporary stays to whistleblowers at risk of adverse personnel actions. That legislation grants authority to the MSPB general counsel to provide protection to federal workers with cases pending before the board when there are no members at the agency to issue temporary relief.