Senate Panel OKs Bill Hiking Fed Worker Buyouts to $40,000


(Bloomberg, BNA)

Federal Employees 

  • Unions like new buyout amount but fear federal workforce cuts
  • Related bills address hiring recent graduates and short-term employees

By Louis C. LaBrecque

Federal employees could receive buyouts of up to $40,000 under legislation reported to the Senate Oct. 4 by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Adjustment Act (S. 1888), as amended, would raise the maximum buyout level from the current $25,000. It also calls for further annual adjustments, on March 1 each year, of federal buyouts based on changes to the consumer price index.

The White House Office of Management and Budget issued guidance April 12 directing federal agencies to submit reorganization plans that would “achieve near-term workforce reductions” and “maximize employee performance.” Agencies were required to submit finalized plans to the OMB by Sept. 30, and buyouts likely will be a feature of at least some agencies’ workforce reduction efforts.

The VSIP Adjustment Act was approved by the Senate panel by voice vote, along with two other bills from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that also were reported to the Senate.

The Direct Hire of Students and Recent Graduates Act (S. 1887), as amended, would make it easier for the government to hire college and graduate school students and recent graduates for federal jobs. The number and types of jobs that could be offered using the bill’s “direct hire” authorities would be limited under regulations to be developed by the Office of Personnel Management.

The Temporary and Term Appointments Act (S. 1886), as amended by a substitute bill the committee approved, would give agencies some authority to bypass the government’s formal hiring process. The measure would apply to time-limited temporary appointments of less than a year and to term appointments of between one and five years.

Speed Brings Competitive Edge

The bills would make the government more competitive as an employer, said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based group that supports limited government.

“Many potential federal employees–particularly younger graduates who do not yet have jobs or incomes–cannot afford to sit around and wait for months while federal agencies go through the arduous process of hiring a new worker,” Greszler told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 4.

“By making it easier to hire workers–particularly recent graduates–more quickly, the federal government can better compete with the private sector, which typically takes weeks instead of months to hire new employees,” she said.

Unions Oppose Hiring Bills

The bill to ease hiring of students and recent graduates isn’t necessary, Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 4.

“There are plenty of applicants and proper agency planning and HR support will provide for a vibrant young workforce,” he said.

The bill allowing faster hiring of time-limited and term appointees risks creating “a term employment workforce” where agencies “abandon the regular process and hire all temporary short-term employees,” Lenkart said. This could lead to the loss of institutional knowledge at federal agencies, he said.

NFFE supports raising the maximum buyout amount to $40,000, Lenkart said. But the union is concerned that the bill could have the effect of “getting rid of feds” by encouraging employees to leave the government, he said.

Richard Loeb, a senior policy counselor at the American Federation of Government Employees, also an AFL-CIO affiliate, had a similar take. The AFGE supports increasing the maximum buyout level to $40,000 but is concerned the bill could be paired with efforts to reduce the federal workforce.

The AFGE opposes the other two bills, Loeb said.

Temporary- and term-appointed employees “don’t get pension benefits or career status,” Loeb said. “Every few years they come up against these limits” when their employment terms end, he said.

As for the student and graduate bill, Loeb said direct-hire recruiting at specific colleges and universities isn’t consistent with the notion that opportunities for federal employment are open to all. “It’s open if your school is on the list,” he said.

Vets Preference Imperiled?

The student and graduate hiring bill could have an adverse effect on military veterans seeking federal jobs, Loeb added. The legislation doesn’t abolish veterans’ preference, but it provides a way of working around the government’s policy of giving veterans seeking federal employment a leg up, he said.

Nothing in the student and graduate hiring bill would affect veterans’ preference in federal hiring, Darrell Jordan, Lankford’s communications director, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 4. The legislation includes provisions designed to make it easier to hire veterans who are also students or recent graduates, Jordan said.

And term and temporary appointments were used by the Obama administration to fill federal job openings, Jordan said. The legislation codifies the government’s existing program, he said.

By Louis C. LaBrecque

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at

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