DoD Workers’ Livelihood at Stake in FY 2021 Defense Authorization Bill

Categories: DoD, The Insider

The livelihood of federal employees who work for the Defense Department is at stake as members of Congress are drafting the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will impact the employees and the work they do supporting our uniformed warfighters. AFGE is calling on elected officials to give the civilian employees the support and resources they need to do their jobs following a series of anti-worker policies being implemented by the Trump administration. 

Here are AFGE’s 12 priorities we’re asking Congress to act on. They are outlined in a letter from AFGELegislative Director Alethea Predeoux to leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on June 4. 

1. Protect existing collective bargaining and union representation for civilian employees 

On Jan. 29, 2020, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum, unsolicited by the Secretary of Defense, to provide the Secretary of Defense broad authority to exclude DoD agencies and subdivisions from being covered under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS), which outlines collective bargaining rights for federal employees.

AFGE urges the inclusion of language in the NDAA that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to exclude the department, or any agency, activity, or subdivision of the department, from coverage under the FSLMRS.

2. Support locality pay parity between hourly and salaried workers  

Hourly and salaried workers who work side-by-side in the same place for the same employer and who travel the same roads to get to and from work are treated as though they are in different locations. AFGE urges members of Congress to prohibit the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) from including more than one local wage area within a General Schedule pay locality and provide direction to align Federal Wage System areas with General Schedule locality pay areas.

3. Expand federal employee paid leave benefits  

Provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to federal employees for qualified purposes. Lack of paid family leave forces families to make difficult decisions when coping with newly arrived children, medical emergencies, or separations due to military service. Studies show that providing this leave costs relatively little but results in increased employee morale and productivity, reducing employee turnover.

AFGE also urges inclusion of a technical correction that would expand the paid parental leave benefit to federal employees who are currently ineligible because they are not Title 5 employees. This includes Federal Aviation Administration employees, certain Department of Veterans Affairs employees, District of Columbia Courts and Public Defender Services employees, certain employees of the Executive Office of the President and White House Office, non-screener personnel at the Transportation Security Administration, and Article I judges, including bankruptcy and magistrate judges.

4. Prevent a “hollow force” 

DoD can prevent that by prohibiting: 

  • arbitrary reduction of the DOD civilian workforce;
  • inappropriate privatization or conversion to more costly labor sources – military and contractor;
  • arbitrary misuse of term or temporary hiring authorities for enduring missions by requiring consideration of workload, cost, readiness and other effectiveness measures.

The Department currently imposes arbitrary cuts on the civilian workforce, shifting work to more costly labor sources (contractor or military). When there are imbalances in total force management, this creates a “hollow force” even with additional funds going to Defense because of an inefficient and ineffective mix between the military and the required civilian support structure.

Secretary of Defense Esper’s defense-wide reviews, known as “Night Court” reviews, cut more than $5 billion from Defense Agencies based on “assumed” efficiencies. The $5 billion cut will most likely lead to significant job losses. 

Additionally, the misuse of term or temporary hiring authorities for long-term missions results in employees working for many years without the benefits and protections afforded to the permanent workforce.

5. Improve oversight of contract services  

AFGE urges inclusion of language in the FY 2021 NDAA that would restrict the use of appropriated funds for services contracts that have not complied with the statutory requirements for comprehensive contractor inventories, improved compliance checklists to prohibit work arounds to the public-private competition moratorium, and statutorily compliant budgets for contract services. Inclusion of such a provision would implement several GAO recommendations related to services contracts.

We also oppose proposals to lift the public-private competition ban, make exceptions to public-private competition requirement, or expand the use of public-private talent exchanges. For more details on this issue, read our letter to Congress

6. Support DoD’s legislative proposals to correct the overly broad definition for commercial items  

The Department of Defense has proposed solutions to correct the imbalance created by recent overly broad extensions of so-called “commercial” treatment for acquisitions. The “commercial item” definitions and treatment have generated excessive cost growth and readiness problems. The Department’s legislative proposals would improve access to cost and price information and access to technical data needed for maintaining weapon systems at depots.

7. Oppose proposals that would weaken the diversity and quality of the competitive civil service through hiring shortcuts

AFGE urges members of Congress to oppose proposals that would seek short-cuts in the hiring process that would limit consideration of veterans and internal candidates. These short cuts include the use of direct hire or expanding the scope of the excepted service, such as the cyber excepted service.

We also oppose the expansion of personnel demonstration pilots that have the purpose of re-introducing National Security Personnel System (NSPS) “performance-based compensation” schemes that were repealed, in part, because of their discriminatory application against women and minorities.

8. Oppose the merger of military grocery stores and retail stores  

The GAO recently found that the Defense Resale Task Force overestimated savings and underestimated the costs of its recommendations to merge Commissaries with Exchanges, and that DoD did not fully disclose to Congress the concerns of the military department stakeholders regarding the merger. DoD requires statutory authorization from Congress to proceed with the merger.

9. Clarify the importance of retention of an experienced workforce and military service during Reductions in Force  

AFGE urges Congress to amend the order of retention for Reductions in Force (RIF) to emphasize seniority and veterans preference. Doing so would repeal recent language that gave subjective performance evaluations primacy over seniority and veterans preference in DoD RIF procedures.

The use of “forced distributions” or bell curve performance evaluations in lieu of rating employees based on their actual accomplishments relative to assigned sets of duties is subjective and easily manipulated by management, demoralizing the workforce and affecting recruitment and retention of skilled employees.

10. Improve staffing at military hospitals 

To ensure quality of care and ensure patient safety, AFGE urges Congress to include H.R. 2581 and S. 1357, “Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2019” in the FY 2021 NDAA that would establish minimum direct care registered nurse staffing requirements based on the number of patients served by a hospital.

The military departments are realigning military nurses into deployable jobs, but the Army and Navy are not backfilling these positions, thereby forcing civilian nurses to float from one ward to another after only an eight-hour orientation. This is outside of their position descriptions and scope of practice, and dangerous to patient safety.

Even though the reorganization of the Defense Health Agency has been put on hold by Congress, the reorganization had already generated coverage gaps for military beneficiaries being shifted to Tricare networks that lacked the capacity to provide timely and quality care in over-saturated private markets. Most significantly, these coverage gaps have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, placing everyone at risk.

11. Address COVID-19 Issues related to medical supply chain, PPE, telework, and MWR programs 

While most of the congressional response to the COVID-19 has been in separate legislation, the NDAA may be a parallel venue for addressing longer term solutions to medical production supply chain logistical problems to the degree they are not ultimately enacted into law in the Senate.

The Department of Defense has unique capabilities and logistical skill sets that should be leveraged more on an inter-agency basis across the government in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. AFGE urges Congress to establish a framework for oversight, reporting and audits related to the implementation of uniform testing, allocation of personal protective equipment (PPE) and availability of telework arrangements within DoD.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the department’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. Without enough funding in the FY 2021 NDAA, 55,000 MWR employees could be furloughed. Among those who could be furloughed are employees working at child development centers, food operations, fitness centers, outdoor recreation, libraries, lodging facilities, and others. 

12. Allow for presumption of worksite illness for federal firefighters with cancer and heart disease  

AFGE urges inclusion of H.R. 1174, the “Federal Firefighters Fairness Act” which creates an automatic presumption of workplace illness if federal firefighters become disabled by serious illnesses, such as heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers, and other infectious diseases. Such a provision would ensure that federal firefighters receive the needed care and benefits in a timely manner.

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