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House Panel Passes Hiring Reform, Harassment Protections for Federal Interns

Approved bills also include update to presidential transition process and anti-fraud measure.

A House committee on Friday passed a series of bills that included a federal hiring reform measure and new protections from fraud and abuse.

At a business meeting that focused primarily on school vouchers in Washington, D.C., the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously agreed to several “commonsense, good government” measures that will now head to the House floor for full consideration. Among those bills was the Competitive Service Act, legislation already backed by the Senate that would make it easier for agencies to share information on job applicants.

The bill’s proponents, which include a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and several federal employee and good government groups, say it would streamline federal hiring by allowing agencies to collaborate on competitive service certificates when looking to fill a position in the same occupational series and within a similar grade level. The bill would essentially create a list of pre-approved candidates for similar groupings of job openings, a practice prevented by current statute. The Office of Personnel Management has endorsed the reform, according to a Senate report.

The oversight panel also agreed to The Federal Intern Protection Act, which would amend Title V of the U.S. Code -- which governs the federal workforce -- to provide interns all the protections afforded to regular federal employees. Lawmakers said the change would “close existing loopholes” that permit discrimination prohibited for all other American workers under the Civil Rights Act. Current federal laws also leave interns facing sexual harassment or age-based discrimination with little or no recourse.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking member, said most federal interns are unpaid and “do this work to acquire experience and contacts to pursue their career dreams.” They should not, he added, be subject to harassment and abuse.

The committee also agreed to another Senate-backed measure -- the 2015 Representative Payee Fraud Prevention Act -- that would give U.S. attorneys the statutory authority to prosecute retiree representatives who misuse funds from the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System. The bill classifies misuse of such benefits as a felony, and provides the same protections that veterans and Social Security recipients receive. Under the representative payee program, a person or an organization manages benefits for recipients who are unable to do so for themselves.

The committee agreed to a measure to smooth the transition process for presidents to hand off the reins to their successor, which has also been agreed to in the Senate. The Presidential Transitions Improvement Act would require a transition council to be in place six months prior to a presidential election with career representatives from each agency and component, and for the General Services Administration to create a career position to oversee the process. It would also expand training for incoming political appointees.

The House committee tweaked the Senate’s bill, so the measure would require additional action from the upper chamber if the full House approves it. The panel also approved the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2015, which seek to improve transparency of federal advisory committees. 

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