Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said that in conference committee he will push for a bigger pay raise and language to block USDA relocations.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said that in conference committee he will push for a bigger pay raise and language to block USDA relocations. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Senate Panel Advances Spending Bills Blocking OPM-GSA Merger, Allowing USDA Relocations

Democrats say that in conference committee they will endorse House-passed provisions blocking the relocation of science agencies to Kansas City and authorizing an average 3.1% pay raise for federal employees.

A Senate panel on Thursday advanced to the floor for final consideration spending bills that effectively endorse President Trump’s proposed 2.6% across-the-board pay increase for federal civilian employees next year and block a plan to merge the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration.

The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced by voice vote fiscal 2020 appropriations bills for Financial Services and General Government, and for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

The Financial Services and General Government package includes a $43 million increase in funding for OPM and effectively blocks the controversial proposal to send most of the personnel agency's operations to GSA and vest all of OPM's rulemaking authority in a non-Senate confirmed political appointee position within the Executive Office of the President. The financial services appropriations bill also remains silent on federal compensation, effectively endorsing Trump’s alternative pay plan, which calls for a 2.6% increase in base pay and no increase to locality pay.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he will continue to push lawmakers to adopt additional provisions affecting federal workers that were included in the House’s version of the bill, like an extra 0.5% average increase in locality pay and a measure that would block agencies from implementing new union contracts that were developed without union input or mandated by the Federal Service Impasses Panel.

“Our hardworking civil servants are the backbone of the federal government and serve the American people every day—refusing to pay them what they deserve is shameful,” Van Hollen said. “I worked to stop President Trump’s earlier call for a pay freeze, which he is no longer threatening, and I will strongly support the House’s 3.1% pay raise in conference. I am also pleased that the legislation funds the Office of Personnel Management as its own entity, not as part of the General Services Administration. This legislation rejects that misguided idea, and I will continue to fight it.”

The agriculture appropriations bill similarly lacks a House-passed provision that would block the Agriculture Department from using fiscal 2020 funds to relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City. That move has been criticized in recent weeks because both agencies will lose a majority of their existing workforce, and because White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney suggested the goal of the decision was to encourage employees to quit.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said he would support the House’s version of the bill as negotiations between the chambers continue.

“These agencies do vital work and are strengthened by their proximity to other key agencies in D.C.,” he said. “A move away will result in a loss of critical staff, jeopardizing the effectiveness of their work. This is an issue I’m sure will be taken up in conference [committee].”

Both bills now go to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.