Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., offered a successful amendment protecting the collective bargaining rights of Pentagon employees.

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., offered a successful amendment protecting the collective bargaining rights of Pentagon employees. House Television via AP

House Defense Policy Bill Fixes Parental Leave Loopholes, Preserves Pentagon Collective Bargaining

The House version of the 2021 Defense authorization measure ensures all federal workers have access to the new benefit providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and it also standardizes locality pay between the General Schedule and Federal Wage System pay scales.

A House panel advanced its version of the annual Defense policy bill late Wednesday night, which this year includes provisions fixing loopholes in the new federal employee paid parental leave law and restricting the Defense Department from acting on newfound authority to end collective bargaining for more than half a million federal workers.

The House Armed Services Committee voted 56-0 to send the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395) to the full chamber for consideration, following a 14-hour hearing. As an annual must-pass bill, the legislation is often used as a vehicle to enact policies affecting the entire federal workforce.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week advanced its own version of the bill, which includes measures authorizing higher pay for a select number of high-level technology, acquisition and management posts as well as fixes for reimbursement of tax expenses related to federal employee relocations, and the full Senate is expected to vote on that measure later this month.

Included in the House bill is a provision fixing unintended loopholes in a policy in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that provides federal workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption or placement of a foster child. Currently, only workers employed under Title 5 and Transportation Security Administration screeners are guaranteed access to the new benefit, creating uncertainty for other workers at TSA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and those hired under different authorities like Title 38 Veterans Affairs Department employees.

This year’s House bill clarifies that 12 weeks of paid parental leave will be available to all federal workers.

During Wednesday’s marathon hearing, Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., introduced an amendment that would prohibit the Defense Department from using federal money to take advantage of an authority granted by President Trump last January to exempt any Defense agency or subcomponent from the federal law giving federal workers collective bargaining rights. First uncovered by Government Executive, Trump delegated to Defense Secretary Mark Esper his authority to carve from federal labor law workforces that serve national security functions. To date Esper has not used this new authority.

“The Department of Defense has 650,000 civilian employees, and just under 500,000 of them are represented by unions,” Norcross said. “Unions have been allowed to bargain on behalf of employees [at the Defense Department] since [federal sector unions] were first created in 1962 . . . Why are we stirring the pot and creating animosity [between labor and management] at a time when they’re essential workers during COVID? We need to send a message that we’re with you, especially during COVID.”

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., suggested Norcross was creating a “solution in search of a problem.”

“All that the president did was use his authority to delegate to Secretary of Defense Esper, and Esper has said that he did not ask for it and that they have no plans to use that delegated authority,” Byrne said. “I don’t think there’s any negative impact demonstrated or any harm coming from the president delegating his power to the secretary of defense. If anything, the secretary is closer to this issue than the president, so it makes sense that he would delegate.”

The committee voted 34-22 to include Norcross’ amendment in the bill.

The bill also prohibits the Office of Personnel Management from including more than one local wage area within a General Schedule pay locality, effectively ensuring that blue collar Federal Wage System employees in a given region receive the same locality pay each year as their counterparts who serve in General Schedule positions.

The bill now heads to the floor for consideration by the full House.