White House Objects to Language Preventing OPM-GSA Merger and Other Workforce Provisions in House 'Minibus' Spending Bill
Veto threat also lists objections to provisions that would undermine the White House’s approach to labor-management relations.
The House on Friday voted 217-197 to approve a minibus spending package for a majority of the federal government, but not before the White House issued a formal veto threat over a variety of provisions, including several affecting the federal workforce.
The legislation contains $1.3 trillion in funding for fiscal 2021, and includes the Defense, Commerce, Justice, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills.
One thing the bill does not include, however, is a proposal to override President Trump’s plan to provide federal civilian employees with a 1% across-the-board pay increase next year, and keep locality pay rates at 2020 levels. Still, according to a veto threat published by the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday, there’s a lot that the administration dislikes about the bill, including provisions blocking the transfer of Defense Department money toward the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a requirement that military installations named after Confederate leaders be renamed.
The White House also zeroed in on a number of provisions impacting the federal workforce at large. The document objected to provisions blocking federal funds from being used to implement the administration’s controversial proposal to send the Office of Personnel Management’s functions to the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President as well as all interagency agreements between OPM and GSA exceeding $100,000 in value.
“The administration continues to stress the need for structural and organization reform at OPM, and strongly opposes the inclusion of language [blocking the merger],” the White House stated. “Legislative and administrative reforms are needed to better align resources with the agency’s mission and create long-term stability, sustainability and increased operational excellence.”
The effort to ship OPM’s functions to other agencies is on hold after lawmakers successfully included language in fiscal 2020 spending law requiring a yearlong study by the National Academy of Public Administration on the future of the agency. But the plan has undergone renewed scrutiny in recent months, as reports accused officials of lying to Congress about the potential legality of implementing the plan administratively and lawmakers said the administration has been trying to circumvent the merger delay.
The White House also objected to a series of provisions aimed at reining in the administration’s efforts to reduce the role of federal employee unions at agencies. Language in the bill prevents agencies from using federal funding to implement new union contracts that have not been “mutually and voluntarily agreed to” by all parties, effectively nullifying all new collective bargaining agreements implemented since April 2019.
The legislation also blocks the administration from exempting any agency from federal labor law, in response to President Trump’s decision in January to grant Defense Secretary Mark Esper the ability to outlaw unions at the Pentagon, an authority Esper has yet to employ. And it bars federal agencies from using appropriated funds to prevent employees from using official time and telework or to deny unions subsidized office space in federal facilities.
“By stipulating that a [bargaining agreement] shall remain in full force and effect until a new bargaining agreement is reached through mutual consent, this provision would effectively trap agencies and would force them to remain party to agreements that do not advance the effectiveness of efficiency of the agency’s mission,” the White House wrote. “Similarly, the administration strongly opposes Section 752, which seeks to limit the president’s authority to suspend provisions of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute or exempt certain agencies for reasons of national security. It also strongly opposes section 753, which seeks to curtail agencies’ discretion to place reasonable limitations on [the] use of official time by their employees and to limit agency space to mission-related uses rather than occupancy by employee unions.”
The Senate has yet to advance any of its appropriations bills for fiscal 2021.