OMB recalls feds to work

The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo instructing agencies to reopen after a continuing resolution ending the 35-day shutdown was signed into law.

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The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo late on Jan. 25 instructing agencies to reopen after a continuing resolution ending the 35-day shutdown was signed into law.

Acting OMB Director Russell T. Vought told the heads of federal agencies to "reopen offices in a prompt and orderly manner."

OMB provided a list of "high priority issues" for agencies to consider during the restart of government, including preparing to manage the backlog of work and contacting payroll providers to accelerate payment to employees. Other issues include focusing on employee morale, figuring out who needs to be in place to support the return of employees including IT and security staff.

An administration official told FCW that restoring staff security credentials could also pose a challenge, as many expire after 30 days of inactivity.

About 800,000 federal employees work at the agencies and departments closed during the 35-day shutdown, with an estimated 420,000 working without pay in security positions and the rest furloughed. Most will be reporting to work on Jan. 28, and the government is preparing to deliver back pay as soon as possible -- per the terms of legislation guaranteeing back pay that was signed during the shutdown.

For many feds, that pay date will come this week, but not immediately, as government payroll centers spin up operations. A few smaller agencies could see paychecks deposited as soon as Monday, Jan. 28, but most will come on Jan. 30 and 31, the official said. Most employees will get a single paycheck for all back pay, but those in agencies supported by the Interior Business Center should expect two back-to-back special payrolls.

Since payroll is a shared service, most of the six centers have continued to operate during the shutdown, even if the parent agency was not funded, as some customer agencies have full-year appropriations. Processing back pay still takes time, however, because it must be done around already-scheduled normal payroll operations. Employees from the Office of Personnel Management, Office of Management and Budget and the payroll centers themselves are working through the weekend to fast-track the back-pay processes.

Employees should also expect some irregularities with insurance and tax withholding when receiving single checks for four weeks of back pay. The necessary adjustments will be made as normal pay periods resume, the official said.

Open, but for how long?

The continuing resolution is in force through Feb. 15. To maintain government operations beyond that date, Congress and the White House will have to agree to a new funding bill. President Donald Trump has said that's dependent on the satisfactory outcome of a bipartisan congressional push to fund more border security.

"I'm very optimistic that the conference committee can come to a good conclusion and we can avoid another shutdown," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Jan. 25.

Lasting effects?

Advocates for federal workers and managers are concerned that the damage from the 35-day shutdown will be long lasting.

"Our national travesty appears to be over, at least for the next three weeks," Thomas Burger, executive director of the Professional Managers Association said in a statement. "Yet the financial and psychological abuse that federal workers and their families have sustained over the past 35 days, particularly the 800,000 who were furloughed or working without pay, will not soon be forgotten."

The American Federation of Government Employees urged all federal employees who worked without pay during the shutdown to join its lawsuit against the federal government for its practice of requiring employees in essential or excepted positions to work without pay during a lapse in appropriations.

Senior Executive Association President Bill Valdez is worried about the future of the federal workforce. "Damage to the government’s workforce and its ability to attract and retain the talent it needs to serve all Americans is immense," he said in a statement.

Some in Congress are looking to take the threat of government shutdowns out political funding fights.

In a statement on the end of the shutdown, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the final appropriations package "should also end government shutdowns once and for all."

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "one of the results of this embarrassing, destructive, and unnecessary government shutdown should be a new bipartisan rule which guarantees we will never face this again."

In April 2017, Sen. Rob Portman introduced a bill to end government shutdowns by putting continuing resolutions in place in the event of a lapse of appropriations. He plans to reintroduce the bill, but its formula of diminishing spending after 120 days of a CR will be controversial.

If a full-year appropriation is passed by Feb. 15, civilian feds will likely see a 1.9 percent pay increase for fiscal year 2019 included in the legislation. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced a bill to back a 2.6 percent pay raise, matching the increase being received by active-duty military personnel. The bill is co-sponsored by nine Capitol-area Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

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