House Republicans Include Pentagon Proposals to Waive Pay, Appellate, and Collective Bargaining Laws in this Year's Defense Authorization Bill

May 19, 2003

After a marathon mark up lasting the better parts of two days, May 13 and 14, House Republicans repeatedly rejected all of AFGE's efforts to weaken or eliminate the multitude of anti-federal employee personnel provisions included in the FY04 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1588). The anti-federal employee provisions were inspired by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's controversial "Transformation" plan, drafted by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), and included in the defense authorization bill by House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) led the fight against the Rumsfeld-Davis-Hunter provisions, although he had plenty of help from all of the other Democrats on the committee. In a particularly inspiring statement at the beginning of the debate, Representative Cooper insisted that the anti-federal employee provisions constitute "friendly fire" against federal employees and were a severe injustice to the Department of Defense (DoD) civilian workforce, whose invaluable efforts in the War Against Iraq had been justly celebrated in recent weeks.

Chairman Hunter and Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Michael Turner (R-OH) led the effort against Representative Cooper's amendment to strike all of the anti-federal employee provisions from the defense authorization bill. The Cooper Amendment was defeated by a party-line vote of 32-28, with all Republicans voting to give Pentagon officials the authority to rewrite laws affecting appeal rights, collective bargaining rights, and pay, (whether the DoD employee was white-collar, blue-collar, or a fire fighter, or the pay in question was premium pay, overtime, comp time, duty differential, etc.). The sole exception was Representative Ed Schrock (R-VA), who was absent during both days of the committee's mark up and was unable to vote on any amendments. (see vote tally on Cooper Amendment)

Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) offered an amendment to reinsert the statute (Chapter 71 of Title 5) that establishes collective bargaining rights for federal employees. Republicans said that the legislation already guaranteed collective bargaining rights, but Representative Sanchez pointed out that the legislation only urges that collective bargaining be continued in the civil service process drawn up by Pentagon officials. Moreover, the legislation would also allow DoD to impose its own solution in the event of a deadlock, which meant that it would be a process for consultation, not collective bargaining. (see vote tally on Sanchez Amendment)

Other AFGE-supported Democratic amendments would have given Pentagon officials one year to come up with the personnel system they actually wanted, rather than carte blanche to essentially come up with whatever system they wanted (Representative Silvestre Reyes), applied the new personnel system to managers and supervisors only (Representative Silvestre Reyes), limited the new personnel system's application to 200,000 civilian employees (Representative Jim Cooper), and ensured that the new personnel system continued the tradition of pay parity between civilian and military personnel (Representative Kendrick Meek). However, all four of those amendments were voted down by voice-vote (i.e., not recorded votes).

The defense authorization bill will go to the floor for consideration by the entire House of Representatives during the week of May 19. It remains to be seen whether the House Republican leadership will allow any pro-DoD civilian employee amendments to be offered to the defense authorization bill. Please check back for updates on the situation. In addition, the Senate will also consider the defense authorization bill next week. AFGE Activists should continue to urge their supporters to oppose any effort to give DoD managers almost unfettered discretion to rewrite the civilian personnel system.

Questions? Please call AFGE's Legislative Department at (202) 639-6413.