House Passes Shutdown Back Pay for Contractors; Measure Opposed by White House

An appropriations bill that passed the House 227-194 on Tuesday includes a provision to give back pay to low-wage federal contractors hurt during the 35-day shutdown earlier this year.

The funding measure for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020, rolled together appropriations for Commerce, Justice and Science, including NASA; the Justice Department, including state and local law enforcement activities; and more. The language for the back-pay provision came from the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act, which was introduced in January by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

“Although federal employees received back pay after President Trump’s 35-day shutdown, federal contract workers, who do the same federal work, were left out altogether,” Norton said. “Contract workers have become second-class federal workers, doing the same jobs as civil servants but without the pay and security of federal employees.”

“The Trump shutdown exposed their vulnerability, which had been under the radar until the shutdown,” she added.

In an op-ed this week in The Hill, Pressley and 32BJ Service Employees International Union President Hector Figueroa argued, “Federal contract workers and their families did nothing to cause this senseless shutdown, but they are the ones who continue to suffer its consequences. Now, they are counting on us make things right.”

“Many of these hardworking men and women are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and just one missed paycheck can lead to financial ruin,” they wrote. “The last shutdown has left contractors, who work shoulder-to-shoulder with federal employees, struggling to pay their mortgage, rent, and other household bills. Some even had to turn to food banks just to keep food on the table.”

The legislation would cover the rate of take-home pay up to $965 a week per employee. The White House opposes the measure, though, with the Office of Management and Budget stating that “while contractors play an important role in helping government agencies meet their missions, this legislation ignores important principles of federal contracting, and would lead to increased cost and a significant increase in the risk of fraud, waste and improper payment.”

“The administration anticipates significant, disruptive and costly challenges in trying to force-fit the requirements of contractor back-pay legislation into an acquisition system that is not designed or equipped to manage contractor employees,” OMB said June 18.

A group of House Democrats told OMB in a letter that “government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract, and federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for contract workers who lost wages as a result of the shutdown.”

The Senate hasn’t yet moved any 2020 appropriations bills, so it’s unknown when or if the provision will be brought up for a vote in the upper chamber.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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