Another Shot at Paid Parental Leave

A group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced legislation Thursday that would give federal employees four weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child. The bill (H.R. 616), sponsored by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., also would allow federal workers to use any accumulated annual or sick leave to offset the 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The House passed the bill in Congress' last session, but the legislation failed to make it through the Senate. It may have an even steeper climb in this session of Congress, especially as the new House Republican leadership has argued that federal workers are overpaid and receive too generous of a benefits package.

But the lawmakers noted that paid parental leave could provide numerous benefits to government in recruiting and retaining younger workers. "To recruit and retain the next generation of civil servants the federal government must have personnel policies that are competitive with the private sector," Connolly said. "As the baby boomer generation of federal workers retire in great numbers over the next decade, we need to provide incoming federal employees with sensible options that make federal service competitive with the private sector."

It's true that offering paid parental leave benefits would make the government more competitive with the private sector, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining IT workers. A 2009 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that about three-quarters of Fortune 100 companies offer paid maternity leave, and about one-third of those companies offer paid paternity leave. The list of top companies offering such benefits included several technology companies.

Still, a 2009 report by the Congressional Budget Office found that while providing a generous parental leave benefit to federal employees would lower recruitment and training costs, such potential savings were likely to be relatively small over the next five years. CBO also estimated the bill would cost $67 million in the first year and $938 million over five years.

What are your thoughts? Is paid parental leave important to recruiting and retaining the next generation of workers, or is it just too much to handle at a time when all federal employees are facing pay freezes and other potential cuts?