Annual Defense Policy Bill Includes Repeal of Two-Year Probationary Period for Pentagon Hires

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The reduction of the probationary period to one year is among several provisions in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that will affect civilian personnel.

A House panel this week is expected to advance the federal government’s annual defense policy bill, including provisions that would repeal the controversial two-year probationary period for new hires at the Defense Department and add more protections for civilian employees’ jobs.

Although the National Defense Authorization Act ostensibly is focused on military issues, the annual bill often plays an important role in federal personnel policy: the Pentagon often is used as a test kitchen for new personnel management concepts, and the must-pass nature of the bill means governmentwide policies are often added to the legislation to ensure their enactment into law. The federal government’s policy providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave was passed as part of the 2020 Defense authorization measure.

The House Armed Services Committee is set to mark up the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday. Though still early in the process, the bill already has several provisions that would impact civilian federal workers.

The bill restores a one-year probationary period for new hires at the Defense Department, repealing a policy first approved in the 2016 authorization act. Since its enactment, Republicans have pushed unsuccessfully to extend the two-year probationary period, during which federal workers can be fired before their due process rights kick in, to all federal employees.

Although the provision has historically had the support of federal managers, federal employee unions have fought the extension of probationary periods beyond one year over concerns that the measure would erode federal workers’ civil service protections. And some experts have argued that often, poor performers are not fired during their probationary period not because the period is too short, but because managers were simply unwilling to take the step of firing a subordinate.

The bill also blocks the Pentagon from using term and temporary hiring authorities for jobs related to so-called “enduring” functions, and it would strengthen laws prohibiting the Defense Department from managing civilian employees based on limitations to the number of full time jobs.

An additional provision would axe another policy enacted as part of the 2016 authorization act: recent changes to how the Defense Department handles reductions in force. Currently, the Pentagon bases reductions in force “primarily” on employees’ performance; under the new bill, the department would revert to the prior system in which RIFs are based primarily on employees’ tenure and veterans’ preference.

This year’s authorization act also includes provisions requiring the Defense Department to report on efforts to curb sexual harassment and improve diversity. It requires the Pentagon to develop a plan to implement a series of recommendations issued by Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in a February report on sexual harassment and assault in the civilian Defense workforce, and it requires the department to issue more detailed metrics on diversity in its workforce, as well as a report on how the department’s leadership is expanding its diversity and inclusion efforts.

The bill also features one-year extensions to provisions granting premium pay to civilian federal employees working overseas, as well as granting additional benefits to civilian workers whose official duty brings them to a combat zone.

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