Update: The Senate passed the 2023 NDAA bill and it now goes to the president for signature. The legislation contains the provision that rescinds the military COVID vaccine mandate.
Members of the military would no longer be required to get the COVID-19 vaccination under an agreement announced between the House and the Senate this week. The bill still has to be passed by the House and Senate and then signed by President Biden to become law.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the compromise was announced between lawmakers in order to get Republicans to support the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill is what sets and funds US national security budget for the coming year.
The agreement would not reinstate military service members who were released for refusing the vaccine. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has introduced legislation to accompany the NDAA legislation that would do provide for reinstatement of these military members. His bill would also provide back pay to the service members who were fired over the vaccine mandate.
According to Republican lawmakers, approximately 3,400 military service members have been discharged from the U.S. military for refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, and tens of thousands of others are at risk of also being separated.
They also said that military recruitment is at an all-time low because of the vaccination requirement, reportedly down 23% from annual targets.
These figures were cited in a letter sent to Congressional leaders by a group of Republican lawmakers urging repeal of the military vaccine mandate.
“The United States simply cannot afford to discharge our brave men and women in uniform and lose the investments we have made in each and every one of them due to an inept bureaucratic policy,” wrote the lawmakers in the letter.
However, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin disputed the Republicans’ claims about the military vaccine mandate hurting recruiting, stating, “I’ve not seen any hard data that directly links the COVID mandate to an affect on our recruiting” in remarks during a December 6, 2022 press conference.
Another report said that members of the Coast Guard who are nearing 20 years of service are being terminated for not complying with the vaccine mandate just before they gain access to their full retirement benefits.
A federal appeals court recently ruled that the Air Force “wrongly relied on its ‘broadly formulated’ reasons for the vaccine mandate to deny specific exemptions to the Plaintiffs, especially since it has granted secular exemptions to their colleagues” in a decision which upheld an injunction which protects Air Force service members from being separated from service or punished for objections to the COVID vaccine on religious grounds which was yet another blow to the military vaccine mandate.
What Does This Mean for the Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate?
Repealing the federal employee vaccine mandate is also an idea that has been floated in the Senate.
The White House and the Pentagon were opposed to repealing the military vaccine mandate. It’s still unknown if the opposition will create any legislative roadblocks for getting the NDAA bill passed into law.
In a White House press briefing on December 5, 2022, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The President told him [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] that he would consider it [request to eliminate military vaccine mandate], but also made clear that he wanted to consult with the Pentagon. And since then, as we’ve all heard, the — the Secretary of Defense has recommended retaining the mandate. That’s because the COVID vaccination requirement was put in place to keep our service members safe and healthy and prepared for service.”
Given that the White House was opposed to repealing the military COVID vaccine mandate, it seems likely that the Biden administration will want to keep the federal employee vaccine mandate in place as well.
What is the Status of the Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate?
As of the time of this writing, the federal employee vaccine mandate is not being enforced due to an injunction that was put in place by the courts.
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force website states:
To ensure compliance with an applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, which may be supplemented, modified, or vacated, depending on the course of ongoing litigation, the Federal Government will take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to Executive Order 14043 on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees.
Until litigation is settled by the courts, the ultimate fate of the federal employee vaccine mandate is unknown.
Pay Parity With Military Looks Likely for 2023 Federal Pay Raise
As part of the agreement, military service members and Department of Defense (DOD) civilian employees would get a 4.6% pay raise for 2023. This is the same raise that federal employees are likely to get next year, although the 2023 federal pay raise is not yet finalized. We will know the final figure later in December and FedSmith will provide extensive coverage of that as soon as it is announced.
Under the terms of the 2023 federal pay raise President Biden outlined in his alternative pay plan letter, federal employees would get an across-the-board base pay increase of 4.1% and locality pay increases to average 0.5%. This will result in an overall average increase of 4.6% for civilian Federal employees, consistent with the assumption in the president’s 2023 budget proposal.
What is Pay Parity?
Pay parity is the idea that federal employees should receive the same annual pay raise as military personnel receive. There is no requirement that pay parity be implemented in a given year. The argument is frequently raised by federal employee unions when a higher raise for military personnel is proposed. It is also raised by legislators, particularly from the Washington, DC metropolitan area, who are seeking a higher raise for many of their constituents that work for the federal government.