By Ivan Cholakov /

Senate Defense Policy Bill Would Allow Pay Increases for a Few Federal Tech and Acquisition Jobs

The bill would also improve a recently enacted fix to tax regulations related to government-provided relocation expenses.

The Senate is slated to vote this week on its version of the annual defense policy bill, a must-pass piece of legislation that often acts as a vehicle for governmentwide workforce policy changes and this year includes provisions ensuring federal employees are reimbursed for taxes on relocation benefits and allowing higher pay for certain Pentagon technology and acquisition jobs.

Last week, the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee released the text of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 4049), and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a vote on whether to open debate on the legislation for Monday evening.

The bill is sure to attract a variety of proposed amendments, some of which have already been announced, affecting all federal workers. Last year, the final version of the authorization act included a long-fought for provision providing federal employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

So far, there is nothing quite as wide reaching in the Senate bill, but it does include several provisions impacting federal employees' pay and benefits. The House Armed Services Committee is slated to begin full-committee consideration of its own version of the legislation on Wednesday.

One section of the Senate bill seeks to strengthen language included in the 2020 Defense authorization act codifying a fix needed after the 2017 tax policy overhaul to reimburse federal workers for taxes incurred as a result of accepting relocation benefits when moving at the behest of a federal agency.

Language in last year’s bill ensured that agencies would also reimburse federal employees for federal, state and local taxes incurred as part of travel, transportation or relocation for work, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. A provision of the Senate bill now under consideration ensures agencies must reimburse taxes incurred for all three of those categories by replacing the “or” in “travel, transportation or relocation” with “and.”

Additionally, the 2021 authorization act would begin a pilot program to offer higher compensation at the very top of the federal Executive Schedule for a select number of jobs in research, technology and acquisition at the Defense Department and its military agencies.

With the Defense secretary’s approval, the department and each of its military departments may pay hires under this pilot program up to 150% of the basic pay available at level 1 of the Executive Schedule, which this year is capped at $219,200.

There are limits to this new authority, however. The jobs must require “expertise of an extremely high level in a scientific, technical, professional or acquisition management field,” and the total number of hires may not exceed five positions each across the Office of the Secretary and each military department. Additionally, people hired under this authority may only serve for terms of less than five years.

If enacted, the new pilot program would apply to federal workers whose positions qualify for the higher salaries if they were hired before the bill’s enactment.