OPM Urges Veto of Parental Leave Bill

Posted June 17, 2008 at 6:31pm

Four weeks of guaranteed paid parental leave may elude some Congressional staffers after the White House announced its opposition to the bill Tuesday.

Introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill would give federal employees four weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. That’s more than is offered by about 20 percent of House offices, according to a 2006 study.

Right now, federal employees aren’t guaranteed any paid time off; instead, they can count on 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

But White House officials argued Tuesday that Maloney’s bill doesn’t offer anything new. It’s redundant, they said, because employees already can use saved-up sick and vacation days as part of their 12 weeks off.

They also argue that the bill is expensive: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will cost $60 million in 2009 and $190 million in 2010.

“It would provide a very costly legislative entitlement that, candidly, does not do the full job,” said Linda Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

The “full job,” according to Springer, is a White House proposal that would offer employees an insurance plan for short-term disability, including pregnancy. Though that proposal was sent to Congress in March, it hasn’t yet found its way into legislation.

“What I would hope is that we could sit down together and come up with a more comprehensive approach,” Springer said.

But in a statement, Maloney reiterated her view that guaranteed paid leave is the way to go. Not all employees have accrued the necessary sick and vacation leave, she said, and they are left without a viable option.

“This may work for the lucky family that never gets sick or takes a vacation, but it’s unrealistic for most,” she said in a statement.

The bill is set to hit the House floor today, after passing several House committees. It’s unclear how the White House’s stance will affect its chances.

If it did pass, it would set an across-the-board minimum standard for Congressional offices, which range greatly in what kind of leave they offer new parents.

About 80 percent of House offices offer some paid family leave, with an average of 7.6 weeks, according to the 2006 report commissioned by the Chief Administrative Officer. The Senate fares much better: 96 percent of offices offer paid leave, usually about six weeks.

The bill would allow federal employees to not only automatically get four weeks of paid leave, but it would also let them tack on any accrued sick or vacation days.

That means more paid time off.

But in a Statement of Administration Policy, White House officials argued that employees already have weeks of sick and vacation paid leave. In an employee’s first year, he or she can accrue 13 vacation days and 13 sick days, plus 10 federal holidays. And those sick days roll over every year, with no limit.

White House officials also cited another 2006 statistic. In the Federal Human Capital Survey, 86 percent of federal employees said they were satisfied with paid leave for illness and “family care situations.”

“Therefore, the Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 5781 because it would provide a costly, unnecessary new paid leave requirement,” the statement reads. It later adds that if the bill reaches President Bush, “his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) is the only Republican out of 21 co-sponsors for Maloney’s bill, and the legislation has gotten some flak from Republicans. Originally, the bill called for eight weeks of paid leave — a number that was cut in half before it passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

But Maloney is undeterred, calling Bush “out of touch with the needs of middle-class families.”

“If President Bush truly supports family values, he will reevaluate his misguided veto threat of this important legislation,” she said in a statement.