WASHINGTON—The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday approved a measure that would provide domestic partner benefits to federal employees by a bipartisan 8-1 vote. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., are original cosponsors of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 bill.  

            The measure would provide the same employment benefits to federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships that are now provided to married federal employees and their spouses – such as healthcare, retirement and disability plans, family leave, worker’s compensation, and group life insurance. The same obligations would also apply – such as conflict of interest provisions, anti-nepotism rules, and disclosure requirements.

             “This legislation is on the right side of history and is really about equal pay and benefits for equal work,” said Lieberman, who has introduced the bill in the past three Congresses.  “Federal employees should not have to choose between their commitment to public service and their commitment to their families.  Will this measure add to the total cost of providing federal employee benefits?  Yes, but only by a tiny fraction—less than five-hundredths of a percent—of the total pay and benefits for federal employees. And we will offset the cost with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget so the bill will be fiscally responsible.”

            “This change is both fair policy and good business practice,” said Collins.  “The federal government must compete with the private sector when it comes to attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees.  Today, health, medical, and other benefits are a major component of any competitive employment package.  Indeed, private sector employers are increasingly offering these kinds of benefits as standard fare.  Among Fortune 500 companies, for example, domestic partner benefits are becoming commonplace.  According to the Office of Personnel Management, nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including some of our top federal contractors, extend employment benefits to domestic partners.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed a similar domestic partner benefits bill last month.  Both bills must still pass their respective chambers.

            Almost 10,000 private sector companies provide benefits to domestic partners, including half of all Fortune 500 companies. Some 22 states – including Connecticut and Maine – and 154 jurisdictions and 300 colleges and universities also provide these benefits.

            The estimated cost is $63 million a year, out of a total federal payroll of $277.6 billion. The Office of Personnel Management is expected to find offsets for the added costs within the existing federal budget.

            In other business, the Committee also approved:

·         The nominations of Grayling Williams to be Director of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security and Elizabeth Harman to be an Assistant Administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency

·         The Federal Agency Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2009, S. 1830, as amended

·         The Federal Supply Schedules Usage Act of 2009, S. 2868

·         The Special Agent Samuel Hicks Families of Fallen Heroes Act of 2009, H.R. 2711, as amended

·         The Congressional Award Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, S. 2865

·         A bill to authorize appropriations for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission through fiscal year 2014, S. 2872, as amended

·         A series of Postal Naming Bills