House-Senate Negotiators Reach Agreement on Defense Authorization Act

House and Senate conferees this week reached an agreement on the 2015 Defense Authorization Act with a number of provisions that affect civilian employees. The House on Thursday approved the plan, and the Senate is expected to follow suit next week. Here are the provisions that affect civilian employees:

  • Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC): Both the House and Senate rejected the Pentagon’s request to significantly downsize infrastructure and related personnel. But the conferees included a provision that requires an updated assessment of the department’s infrastructure. BRAC is likely to be an issue in 2015.
  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS): The Army plans to pull out of DFAS in order to set up its own financial management office that would be largely staffed by military personnel.  Thanks to the strong leadership of the AFGE DFAS Council, House-Senate conferees directed that DoD review the Army’s pilot project underway and that the Comptroller review any proposal in the short-term future to permanently transfer work out of DFAS.
  • A-10 Warthog aircraft: The Pentagon wanted to retire the A-10 Warthog, an aircraft maintained and serviced by AFGE personnel at several installations. The House had strong language to prevent the Pentagon from going forward.  The Senate’s slightly weaker language was ultimately retained, which substantially protects the fleet, allowing the department to retire 36 Warthogs, or slightly more than one-tenth of the fleet. Disposition of the fleet will likely be an issue in 2015, even as A-10s are being deployed to Iraq to battle ISIS militants. 
  • Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA): The Pentagon wanted to slash funding for the commissaries by $200 million, but House-Senate conferees halved the cut and required that the department study various commercial reforms to the system, including conversion to a non-appropriated fund entity. The long-term fate of the commissaries will likely be an issue in 2015, particularly upon the release in February of the report of the Military Compensation and Retirement and Modernization Commission. 
  • Arsenals: It’s a matter of national security that the government maintains its government-owned, government-operated arsenals, but the Army is starving the arsenals of work that civilian employees could perform more efficiently. The House, however, rejected strong Senate language that would have guaranteed workload for arsenals maintained by the government. But conferees did accept the Senate’s language to strip the authority from the Secretary of the Army to close down arsenals at will. They also encouraged the Army to find appropriate workload for government-operated arsenals.
  • Depot Maintenance:  Even though there were no efforts this year to repeal the statutory requirement that at least 50% of depot work be carried out by defense civilian employees, Congress found that DoD was not accurately compiling 50/50 data, calling into question whether or not the department was in compliance with the law. Therefore, the House and Senate conferees directed DoD to improve its accountability and auditability for 50/50 reporting. DoD is also required to spend a minimum amount on capital improvements each year – 6% of the budget – to modernize the depots. 
  • New Work: The Senate rejected a House attempt that would have allowed civilian employees to perform new work if they were deemed more cost efficient. This provision would have essentially codified the department’s own policy, one that it is not following. 
  • Military Conversions: The Senate also rejected a House attempt that would have required any conversions of work from civilian personnel to military personnel to save money and promote readiness. This provision would have essentially codified the department’s own policy, one that it is not following. 
  • Cap on Spending on Service Contracts: House-Senate conferees extended the existing cap on service contract spending through FY15 to prevent the cap on the civilian workforce from causing work to shift to more expensive contractors. 
  • Army Acquisition Check List: The Army has required that its acquisition personnel review a checklist of sourcing laws and regulations before privatizing work, and its use has reduced instances of illegal and inappropriate contracting out.  The House included strong language that required DoD to adopt the Army checklist. But conferees did not adopt the House language. Instead, they recommended that that acquisition executives model their policies and checklists on the checklist used by the Army.
  • Furloughs of Working Capital Fund Employees:  The Senate rejected the House’s attempt to protect working capital fund employees from non-disciplinary furloughs as long as there is sufficient funded workload available. The conferees acknowledged that the furlough of working capital fund employees costs money and production time and urged the department to look at alternatives, but stopped short of forbidding the department from using furloughs during budgetary shortfalls. The language does urge the department to look at both long and short-term costs when considering furloughs.

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