The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of must-pass legislation. Because of that, it typically includes provisions that apply to the entire federal government that would be hard to pass on their own. The 2017 NDAA (all 3,000 pages of it) is no exception, with 7 provisions that directly or indirectly will affect every agency. Here is a summary of those provisions and why you should care about them.
- Direct-hire authority for the department of defense for post-secondary students and recent graduates. Defense, like much of the federal government, needs to bring more young people into the workforce. This provision allows DoD to hire qualified applicants without competition. The number is limited to 15% of the number of competitive hires in the previous fiscal year. If it is successful, this authority may serve as a model for the rest of the government. It has the potential to make college recruiting effective again, so this is an important step in rebuilding the government’s ability to recruit young people.
- Temporary increase in maximum amount of voluntary separation incentive pay (VSIP) authorized for civilian employees of the Department of Defense. VSIP means buyouts. This provision raises the maximum amount of a buyout from $25,000 to $40,000. The buyout authority the government uses began years ago with the Department of Defense, then spread to other agencies. It was $25,000 at the beginning and remains at that level everywhere else. The problem is that inflation has made buyouts much less appealing to employees. Adjusted for inflation (based on the consumer price index), the amount should be $40,000. This provision adjusts the amount to account for inflation and that is a very good thing. It is highly likely that the increased cap will show up in legislation affecting other agencies, making buyouts far more effective as a downsizing and workforce reshaping tool.
- Direct hire authority for financial management experts in the department of defense workforce. This provision targets an area where Defense has difficulty hiring experienced professionals. Much like the problems with hiring younger folks, this provision approaches the problem by getting the hiring out of the traditional competitive process. This is another example of something that is likely to come up in other agencies.
- Repeal of certain basis for appointment of a retired member of the armed forces to department of defense position within 180 days of retirement. As part of the post-9/11 authorities given to Defense, DoD was allowed to hire retired members of the armed forces immediately after retirement, rather than waiting at least 180 days. The result, which was not unexpected, was that the number of retirees (particularly senior officers) being hired exploded. MSPB published an excellent report that addresses the issue. This one applies only to DoD, but the change may make it easier for current employees to compete for jobs in DoD. Because Defense is 40% of the federal workforce, and one of the few departments/agencies that may grow in the next administration, it is significant.
- Review of official personnel file of former federal employees before re-hiring. This provision applies government wide. It requires agencies to do the kind of due diligence that they should be doing anyway. It will affect only those folks who have adverse information in their records. The likely outcome is that people whose records are not entirely clean may be less likely to reapply for federal employment.
- Administrative leave. There has been a lot of press about the misuse of administrative leave. This provision places substantial government wide limits on admin leave, particularly when it is used during investigations of misconduct. It creates new categories of admin leave and requires consistent reporting of its use. Given the millions of dollars wasted by abuse of admin leave, this provision is a great idea that should make a real difference.
- Record of investigation of personnel action in separated employee’s official personnel file. This provision affects employees who are found by an agency to have engaged in misconduct, but who resign or retire before action is taken against them. It requires the agency to include a record of the investigation/finding in the employee’s official personnel file. The idea is that it would be far less likely that another agency would hire the former employee. The idea is sound and it may make a difference for early or mid-career employees. It most likely will not change anything for retirees who are less likely to return to government anyway. One exception may be for cases where an agency enters into a settlement agreement. The language in the NDAA does not address settlement agreements where an agency and employee agree that the employee can resign/retire with no adverse information in their record. Agencies often choose to enter into such agreements in order to get someone out of the agency with no risk of losing an appeal or complaint. They sometimes include language that says the employee will never seek employment in that agency again. While those agreements solve one agency’s problem, they leave other agencies vulnerable to hiring the employee with no knowledge of what happened. I would not be surprised to see this provision amended at some point to clarify that settlement agreements cannot be used to avoid complying with it.
The changes to civil service laws that are included in the NDAA are favorable and should make real improvements in several areas. None of them are partisan and all of them address issues that DoD and other agencies are dealing with today. The approach that the House and Senate used to develop the language could serve as a model for future civil service reforms.