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What the election results could mean for federal employees


November 8, 2018 | Updated on October 21, 2020

Key civil service items to pay attention to in the next Congress

By Andrew Lobel

With control of the House of Representatives shifting to the Democrats, there will be significant changes to the way Congress approaches the civil service. While there is a lot we do not yet know, the election likely affected two big issues.

Government reorganization

The administration’s sweeping plan to reorganize the federal government will continue to face roadblocks in a Democratic House. Although proposals in the plan such as reorganizing the Office of Personnel Management and consolidating environmental cleanup programs likely require congressional approval, according to the Congressional Research Service, the administration is making creative use of existing authorities to move ahead. Whether the administration has overreached could be an area ripe for oversight in the next Congress.

Certain cross-agency priority goals, such as improving the customer experience, security clearance reform and IT modernization, could offer opportunities for Congress and the administration to cooperate on implementation. We’ll see how the Trump administration works with Congress to move its management agenda forward and where the White House attempts to move ahead on its own.

Workforce policy

Several key issues facing agencies and federal employees will likely be affected by the changes in the House and Senate.

On the House side, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is likely to lead the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and committee Democrats are already preparing investigations and oversight of the administration. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for bipartisan cooperation on issues that affect agencies, and those issues could show up on the agenda.

For one, the committee could work on improving the federal hiring process. Other important matters include telework policy, employee engagement, IT modernization and issues of national concern that appear on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List.

On the Senate side, the Democratic makeup of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will change dramatically. Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), two members who played important roles in workforce issues, will not be returning. Heitkamp is notable for her work leading the federal workforce subcommittee with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). The two partnered to improve the USAJOBS website and federal hiring more broadly as well as manager training and other important issues that largely flew under the radar.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is likely to become the ranking member of the full Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, moving up from his position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management.

Federal employees may know Peters through his work on legislation to reduce government’s vehicle fleet costs or his work with Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), to create a rotational program for cybersecurity specialists. Several new senators will join the committee.

Stay tuned for lots more interesting news as the new Congress gets organized and members develop their agendas.