As Congress returns from a not-so-relaxing August recess, health care reform tops the legislative to-do list. But lawmakers also face several pieces of legislation affecting the federal workforce, which were left unresolved at the end of July.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday will consider H.R. 1881, a bill that would eliminate the Transportation Security Administration's special pay system, place its employees on the General Schedule and grant them collective bargaining rights.
A recent cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would cost about $690 million from 2010 to 2014, with much of that money going to pay raises, which could average $1,700 for each of the 36,000 employees in the bottom two bands of the current TSA pay scale.
Supporters of the bill said, rather than hurting its chances, the report shows why the legislation is necessary.
"When I look at the projected cost, I look at this more that it's moving them to a fair system, rather than, that it's giving them a raise," said Charity Wilson, legislative representative for the American Federation of Government Employees. "For eight years, they've been under an unfair, often punitive pay system, under the Performance Accountability and Standards System. It's not surprising that when you go from a system like that to a system that is transparent and objective that there would be differences in pay."
The report noted, however, that the numbers are based on estimates; it's still unclear how many employees would move up the pay ladder if they moved to the GS system.
"Because TSA positions have never been part of the General Schedule, there is considerable uncertainty as to how the roughly 60,000 positions currently under that pay system would ultimately be assigned within the GS system, and hence, considerable uncertainty as to the cost of the conversion," said the report.
The CBO based its results on discussions with TSA and the Office of Personnel Management.
The 2010 Defense authorization legislation is still in conference committee -- and considering that the bill is more than 1,000 pages long, it likely won't wrap up soon. The bill includes several federal workforce reforms, such as locality pay for federal employees living outside the continental United States, a provision allowing Federal Employee Retirement System workers to count unused sick leave toward their retirement and language eliminating the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System.
While congressional staffers likely have worked on the details during the August recess, the House has not named its conferees yet.
Click here for an updated summary of several bills related to the federal workforce currently before Congress.
Another bill under consideration in the Senate is S. 1023, the 2009 Travel Promotion Act, but so far the legislation does not include an amendment that would restrict federal agencies from blacklisting certain cities for government conferences.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., plans to attach such an amendment to appropriations bills later this year. In the meantime, stand-alone legislation from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., which also would restrict federal agencies from blacklisting certain cities, awaits a subcommittee assignment within the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.