Another Shutdown Watch, Potential RIFs, Rescinding Bonuses and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

There’s a lot of anxiety about the Trump administration’s budget plan for 2018, but a more immediate issue for federal employees is the 2017 budget. Agencies are funded only through April 28 under a continuing resolution passed last year. If lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a spending package before then, we’re looking at another government shutdown.

While some lawmakers from both parties seem eager to avoid a showdown over spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, President Trump threw Congress a curveball with his request to cut $18 billion from non-defense agencies to help offset the $30 billion boost he wants to give the Pentagon before Sept. 30. (That’s in addition to $3 billion in extra funding he wants to give Homeland Security, in part to start building a wall on the border with Mexico.)  

As Eric Katz reported today:

Such a hit with just five months to absorb it would wreak havoc across the government, with agencies likely turning to continued hiring freezes and furloughs to meet the reduced funding levels.

To help agencies prepare for the potential impact of severe budget cuts, the Office of Personnel Management this week issued new guidance on how to handle furloughs and staff cuts, known as a reduction in force. When agencies resort to RIFs, seniority, veterans status and performance could all come into play in determining who stays and who goes. It’s also important to remember that the government offers career transition assistance.

As Heather White, a partner in the Federal Practice Group law firm noted in an op-ed for Government Executive: “RIFs are not supposed to take out entire workforces but instead should proceed in an orderly manner based on the retention standing of the impacted employees until the agency is able to get down to the desired headcount.”

If all this has you stressed out and reaching for a pack of cigarettes, get your smokes in now if you work at the Veterans Affairs Department. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, has introduced a bill to prohibit smoking in any Veterans Health Administration facility, FedSmith reports. If VA employees are feeling targeted, it’s probably because they are. Today the House Veterans Affairs Committee is marking up legislation that would prevent certain VA employees from receiving bonuses unless patient scheduling issues are first resolved.

It's not just VA bonuses in jeopardy. Lawmakers also don't want bonuses going to any federal employee who commits a major infraction, according FedSmith: “The Stop Improper Federal Bonuses Act (S. 696) would also require federal employees who engage in egregious misconduct to repay their bonuses.” The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Dean Heller, R-Nevada. We have no idea what the bill's odds are, but you can bet there's not much support for badly-behaving feds.