Lawmakers Propose Bills to Avoid Future Shutdowns, Secure the Power Grid

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Congress also cleared a bill to ensure furloughed feds get back pay once the government reopens.

As the shutdown carries into its fifth week, Congress approved legislation to make furloughed federal employees whole again once they return to work. Lawmakers also proposed bills to secure the power grid and keep agencies open during future lapses in funding. Meanwhile, we’re getting our first glimpse of the people who will lead the debate on tech-focused committees.  

Here’s your rundown:

Feds Get Their Payday, Eventually

The 350,000 federal employees furloughed under what is now the longest shutdown in U.S. history will receive back pay when agencies eventually reopen their doors.

Late last week, Congress approved a bill that would guarantee furloughed feds retroactive compensation and allow employees currently working without pay to take previously scheduled time off. President Trump indicated he would sign the legislation.

Federal employees who work during a shutdown are already promised back pay by law, but furloughed feds have no such guarantees. Though they’ve historically received paychecks once the shutdown ends, Congress must actively approve measures to ensure that happens.

The legislation requires agencies compensate lost time “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends,” regardless of the timing of the next pay period or when the next round of paychecks is scheduled to go out. The bill would also ensure back pay for furloughed feds in future shutdowns.

Shut Down the Shutdowns

As the current shutdown drags on, a group of lawmakers proposed legislation that would permanently prevent the government from closing its doors in the future.

The End Government Shutdowns Act, introduced Friday by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and eight Republican colleagues, would guarantee funding to federal agencies even if appropriations aren’t granted by the funding deadline.

The bill would establish an automatic continuing resolution to fully fund agencies for 120 days after appropriations lapse. After that time, funding would be reduced 1 percent every 90 days until Congress passes a spending bill.

“Moving forward, we should end government shutdowns for good,” Portman said in a statement. “This legislation will accomplish that goal, providing lawmakers with more time to reach a responsible resolution to budget negotiations, giving federal workers and their families more stability, and ensuring we avoid disruptions that ultimately hurt our economy, taxpayers and working families.”

Getting On the Grid

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Bob Latta, R-Ohio, on Thursday introduced a pair of bills that would push government to work more closely with the private sector to secure the national power grid.

One piece of legislation would stand up private-public partnerships to share best practices and data around grid cybersecurity, and the other would create a program at the Energy Department to identify and promote secure grid components. The latter bill would also establish a process to continuously test those products for vulnerabilities.

“The electric grid is the backbone of our economy and touches every aspect of our lives,” McNerney said. “Any vulnerable component or weakness is a threat to our physical and national security. It’s imperative that we invest in grid modernization and security.”

First Round Picks

The newly minted Senate Commerce Committee chairman, Roger Wicker, R-Miss, on Friday announced his picks to lead the group’s six subcommittees.

Given its broad jurisdiction, the committee is likely where many of the upper chamber’s debates on privacy regulation, 5G and other emerging tech issues will play out in the coming years.

Some of the notable appointments include former Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., who will head the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet; Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who will lead the Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee; and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who will chair the Transportation and Safety subcommittee.

Wicker also tapped Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to head the new Subcommittee on Security, which will tackle issues at the intersection of economic and national security.

Kelly to E&C

On the other side of the Hill, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., was named to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, signaling a potential shakeup in the government tech world.

Last session, Kelly served as ranking member on the House Oversight IT subcommittee, which supervised federal IT issues like FITARA. She was an early favorite to take over the group after Democrats won the House, but her appointment to Energy and Commerce means that likely won’t be the case.

Kelly has asked for a waiver to continue serving on House Oversight, according to her office, but waived members historically haven’t chaired subcommittees. As party leaders finalize subcommittee appointments, the IT group’s fate could be up in the air.