Congress

Tech money, workforce provisions in $2.5 trillion House stimulus

US Congress House side Shutterstock photo ID: 156615524 By mdgn editorial use only

The House of Representatives is looking to recharge the flagging American economy with a $2.5 trillion stimulus bill that includes direct payments to individuals and families, support for the health care system's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and targeted relief to idled corporations, provided they adhere to certain conditions about worker treatment.

The bill, which is proceeding separately from a similar though less-expensive package the Trump administration is negotiating in the Senate, also provides for funding for technology responses to the coronavirus outbreak and support for federal workers and contractors.

Workforce and contractors

The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act would allow federal employees to take advantage of new proposed policies concerning telework, paid leave and childcare subsidies.

The bill also rescinds three controversial workforce orders and a memo that President Donald Trump issued in January that allows the Defense Department to suspend collective bargaining during a national emergency.  

If passed, the legislation would grant federal employees up to $2,000 per child every month if they were required to report to work during the pandemic while tasked with caring for a child or dependent.

The bill would also allow agencies to grant weather and safety leave to employees who couldn’t access their offices but weren’t able to telework. It would issue hazard pay to frontline employees such as transportation security officers who have unavoidable contact with the general public where the risk of transmission is high.

It would also grant hazard pay to those who "provide direct patient care and emergency services to individuals who have contracted coronavirus" and provide workers' compensation to employees who contract the coronavirus, with the presumption that they became infected while working in close contact with the public.

Federal unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees have pushed federal agencies to clarify leave and safety policies for transportation security officers and others on the front lines.

The bill includes language regarding telework that echoes another piece of legislation, the Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act 2020, which would require agencies to justify their telework policies to Congress and account for any rollbacks, an ongoing issue that unions and employees have raised.

"Maximum telework flexibilities are not currently being implemented across the government," according to the bill, referencing a recent Office of Management and Budget memo that urged agencies to expand employees' ability to work remotely and encourage social distancing.

"This section would require agency leaders to allow telework for all eligible federal employees during the coronavirus pandemic."

The bill would also nullify three workforce orders that weakened union leaders' ability to claim official time during workplace grievance proceedings and access facility space and that sped up the timeline for which agencies can discipline and fire underperforming employees.

Technology spending

The bill also includes a $3 billion injection into the Technology Modernization Fund, the revolving pot of money created to support IT upgrades at federal agencies. The new bill directs TMF funds to projects that "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus."

Mike Hettinger, a former senior congressional aide who lobbies on behalf of tech firms, said he welcomed the inclusion of Modernizing Government Technology Act money in the stimulus package but wonders if it will make the final bipartisan package.

"If that money is included, Congress would intend for the [TMF] board to move quickly to spend that money to assist in meeting emergency response needs associated with VPN upgrades and other related telework, as opposed to sitting on it for future needs," Hettinger said. "That will require some changes to the way the TMF board has operated in the past, but it can be done."

The bill also includes funding -- perhaps totaling hundreds of millions of dollars -- for agencies looking to expand and support telework, including those with critical citizen-facing missions that are being forced to adapt to life under quarantine.

About the Authors

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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