Final 2022 defense bill calls for new data and software job series
The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday night, includes measures to establish job series for data and software positions, give feds paid parental bereavement leave and more changes for the Defense Department’s civilian workforce and the federal workforce in general.
One provision requires the Office of Personnel Management to “establish or update” one or more occupational series covering government jobs in software development, software engineering, data science and data management.
Federal occupational series define jobs and their categorization within the civil service, such as what educational requirements might be attached to a given job.
The language matches a bill passed by the House in late September after being introduced by Reps. Jay Obernolte (R. Calif.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
The legislation was recommended by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which issued a final report in March.
“Government civilians currently do not have career paths outside of research and development that allow them to focus on software development, data science, or AI for the majority of their career,” the report stated. This limits the government’s ability to recruit and retain feds in these areas, it said.
Other workforce provisions
The 2022 NDAA passed by the House also has a provision to give two weeks of paid parental bereavement leave per year to federal employees across government after the death of their son or daughter.
DOD military service members and civilian workers can also look for an increase of 2.7% in military basic pay.
Another area of interest is changes to the length of probationary periods for civilian DOD employees, something that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal employee union that represents approximately 300,000 DOD employees, pushed for.
The bill brings the standard at the DOD in line with other federal workers starting in 2023 by restoring a one-year probationary period for new civilian feds. The period was lengthened to two years in 2015.
AFGE legislative director Julie Tippens wrote in a Dec. 4 letter to leaders on the House and Senate armed services committees that AFGE has given committee staff a compilation of examples of “abusive uses” of extended probationary periods, particularly against people with disabilities and whistleblowers.
“The whole point of a probationary period is management does not have to prove that there was a performance problem at all and can terminate an employee with little cause,” wrote Tippens.
The NDAA also includes a change to language about how DOD goes about any layoffs, or reductions in force.
Congress changed how DOD decides who is laid off in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Bill, which elevated performance in the matrix of factors used to make RIF decisions. Performance is usually behind tenure, veteran’s preference and seniority.
AFGE wanted Congress to include language that would require DOD to use “longstanding government-wide RIF policies.”
The “concern is that so-called ‘performance’ is far more subjective than the categories of seniority and veterans’ preference and can much more easily be manipulated to improperly displace employees during a RIF,” wrote Tippens.
The union points to the fact that the Biden administration withdrew a rule proposed during the Trump administration that would’ve expanded the elevation of performance in layoffs via the Office of Personnel Management.
The version of the bill passed by the House on Tuesday doesn’t use the language AFGE had pushed for, but it does remove language that reductions in force at DOD should be determined “primarily on the basis of performance” and inserts language that other factors should be considered.
Finally, the bill also includes updated diversity training requirements and provisions regarding sexual harassement and assault. It also requires DOD to establish, collect and report on metrics regarding diversity and inclusion in its civilian workforce.
The NDAA passed by the House also contains a measure to make sure that D.C. National Guard members who are civilian feds don’t get a loss in pay or time from civilian employment when they leave during mobilizations, and another to ease the trading of shifts among federal firefighters
Some proposals didn’t make it in, particularly those aiming to create reserve programs for cyber or digital employees that would come into government on deployments.
A proposal for a pilot in the U.S. Cyber Command had earned the endorsement of AFGE after back and forth over public disclosure requirements and deployment timeframes.
The NDAA still has to be passed in the Senate and signed into law.
This article first appeared in FCW.
Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.