AFGE’s 15 Major Wins in Defense Bill – Including Governmentwide Benefits

Categories: OPM, The Insider

AFGE staff and activists worked relentlessly the past year to protect federal employees’ voice at work and the mission of our government, and our hard work paid off in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) where we made major inroads on many fronts that are not limited to just the Department of Defense.

Our union thanks members of Congress in the House and the Senate who appreciate and support the work that federal workers do serving the American people every single day.

Here are some of the notable wins we achieved in the bipartisan NDAA, which passed the House Dec. 11 and is expected to sail through the Senate and be signed into law:


1. 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees

Considering how the U.S. is the only developed country that currently doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave for new parents, this new benefit is a huge victory not just for federal employees but for all American parents. Our government finally leads by example. This is also a large step in the right direction for full paid family leave.

2. Merger of OPM and GSA blocked

We were able to block the politicized, misguided merger of two completely different agencies – the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the General Services Administration (GSA). The bill requires a study to be conducted by an independent third party, the National Academy on Public Administration (NAPA). NAPA has one year to do the study and OPM has six months after that to report to Congress its views on findings and make recommendations. The administration would still need Congress’ approval before moving forward on any future merger.


3. Workplace protections preserved in newly created Space Force

President Trump had wanted to create the new Space Force with an “at will” civilian personnel with no due process protections, collective bargaining rights, or external appeal rights – a framework for reintroducing the politicized spoils system into hiring, firing, and compensation decisions. Thanks to AFGE’s persistence, members of Congress agreed with us that the spoils system was a bad idea. Federal employment should be based only on skills, qualifications, and experience, not connections or politics.

4. Bonuses for deployed civilians overseas

The bill extends bonuses and special pay authorities for deployed civilian overseas in combat zones.

5. Civilian to military conversions limited

Congress addressed a key aspect of a hollow force by directing the GAO to identify the scope of borrowed military manpower replacing civilian positions and the associated effects on military readiness.

The bill also limits a loophole that had allowed DoD to convert civilian positions to military without regard for any kind of cost analysis. Under the bill, cost now governs the conversions of any civilian positions to military performance. This provision is needed to prevent arbitrary, politicized reductions of the civilian workforce. The provision also helps save money as military personnel are more expensive than civilians.

6. Imbalance between military and civilian workforces highlighted

Congress ordered a study on the impacts of any imbalances between military, civilian, and reserve workforces. The study will also identify any barriers to an appropriately sized civilian workforce, among other things.

7. 2-year probationary period abuses spotlighted

Congress ordered a study of the impacts on DoD’s two-year probationary period for the civilian workforce on the diversity of the workforce, whistleblowers, and the agency’s compliance with equal employment opportunity laws.

8. DoD’s misuse of term and temporary hiring authorities spotlighted

Full-time employees have to complete their probationary periods before gaining full workplace rights, including whistleblower protections. But DoD has often used term and temporary hiring authorities to prevent workers from having full access to workplace protections. The bill directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review any misuse of term and temporary hiring authorities.

9. Personnel caps in DoD lifted

Staffing levels should depend on the workload and readiness, not an arbitrary cap or political agenda. We are happy to report that the personnel caps imposed in 2017 have been lifted, allowing defense agencies to carry out their mission with the manpower they need.

Congress also directed the Federally Funded Research and Development Center to study the effects of personnel caps and the possibility of using analytical models to grow the civilian workforce based on workload, readiness, and force structure metrics.

10. Viability of the military technician program protected

Congress prohibited the Air National Guard from converting dual-status military technicians to Active Guard Reserve status without the technicians’ consent. These dual-status military technicians are civilians but are required to wear a military uniform and have fewer labor rights than other civilians.

Congress also allowed increasing the number of military technicians if there are not enough voluntary conversions to Active Guard Reserve status.

11. Direct hire authorities consolidated and set to expire

Congress consolidated and sunsetted DoD’s direct hire authorities with a directed independent study focused on improving the hiring process that is to be coordinated with all stakeholders, including unions.

12. Merger of military DeCA and Exchanges prohibited

Congress prohibited the merger of the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates military grocery stores, with the Military Exchange, which operates military retail stores. Both commissaries and exchanges provide vital benefits and a source of employment for military families and veterans worldwide. Congress prohibited the merger and conversion of DeCA employees to positions under non-appropriated funds pending the outcome of a GAO review.

13. Military medical, media workforces protected

Congress prohibited realigning or reducing military medical manning end strength until DoD submits requested reports to Congress on the impacts to readiness and the provision of care to military patients.

Congress also prohibited reorganizing and relocating the Defense Media Group until DoD provides to Congress on the impacts this will have on the department’s missions and readiness.

14. Privatization scrutinized

Congress prohibited DoD from privatizing military moving and relocation services pending a GAO review. It mandated a GAO review of military lodging privatization.

Congress also put in place privatization safeguards related to conflicts of interests and mandated contract services accountability in the budgeting process.

15. No BRAC in 2020

Military bases help stimulate local economy and create jobs across America. In some communities, military bases are their only lifeline. That’s why members of Congress opposed another round of base closures in 2020, and we applaud them for that.

How these victories came to be

These victories were months in the making. It involved meetings and communications with the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee in concert with lobbying on the Defense appropriations with the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee.

AFGE wrote several letters to members of Congress on specific topics, such as our opposition to Trump’s original Space Force proposal, privatization of various functions in DoD, and workforce reduction. Some of these letters generated press interest and coverage. We submitted amendments to bad proposals with some accepted to go into the House and Senate’s base markup – the process by which congressional panels debate and amend proposed legislation.

We worked with allies who had common interests to lobby on various proposals ranging from opposing proposed merger of Commissaries with Exchanges to privatization of military moving and relocation services. We provided proposed questions for record to the House and Senate armed services committees during weekly hearings on various topics such as defense agency reorganizations, value of the DoD civilian workforce to readiness, and comparative costs of military, civilian employees, and contractors.

We continued to communicate with members of Congress and staffs during committee markup and when the House and Senate versions of the bill went to the floor to express support and oppositions to amendments. The same process continued after the bills passed the respective chambers and had to be reconciled by their conferees. AFGE was there every step of the way, and that was how we won.

Want to see more victories like these?

Join AFGE and ask your coworkers to join AFGE. The more members we have, the louder our voices are on Capitol Hill. So join us today!

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