Congressional lawmakers and the White House are on the verge of reaching a sweeping agreement that would extend 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers in exchange for making "Space Force" the sixth branch of the U.S military, according to four people with knowledge of the tentative deal.

The deal is part of a defense authorization bill that is slated to pass this month. If consummated, the agreement could mark one of biggest deals President Donald Trump has cut with Congress. It would secure a massive expansion of benefits for federal workers, something Democrats have long sought, in exchange for a realignment of the U.S. military that Trump has sought to secure as part of his legacy.

Multiple people close to the negotiations stressed any final package must still be approved, and Trump has been known to change his mind even when negotiations reach a final stage.

Still, some top White House officials were already celebrating the possible addition of a new federal paid leave policy.

"As the country's largest employer, the United States Government must lead by example," Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and one of his top advisers, said in a statement. "After 3 years of relentless advocacy, the passage of the [defense authorization measure] will secure Paid Parental Leave for ALL federal employees. This will mark a HUGE step forward towards making paid leave a reality for all Americans. This new policy represents another incredible win for millions of hard-working American families courtesy of President Trump!"

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The parental leave news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the delicate negotiations.

One Democratic Congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the parties are "nearing agreement on a final deal." The package could be voted on as early as next week, the aide said.

If it is approved, the extension of paid family leave to federal workers would represent a major benefit to more than 2 million federal civilian workers, who are only eligible for unpaid leave under federal law.

It would mark a reversal of sorts for the White House, which has sought to strip pay and benefits from federal workers since Trump took office in 2017. Instead, it would mark one of the biggest extensions of a new work benefit for the federal workforce in recent history.

Space Force, a new branch of service, would largely be carved out of the Air Force, but also remain part of the Air Force Department, in similar fashion to how the Marine Corps is part of the Navy Department.

The news comes after months of negotiations between House Democrats and the White House over the defense package.

Trump has become increasingly fixated on Space Force as his administration faces the House impeachment inquiry, according to one senior administration official. But is has not been clear if House Democrats would approve of his request.

The Pentagon has already reestablished a Space Command that will be headed by a four-star general. But the Space Force, if approved, would stand up an organization to train and equip specialized forces whose mission would be to accelerate the country's response to militarization of space.

The force would be tasked with things like surveillance and protecting U.S. satellites from foreign attacks.

"It's really down to two issues: Space Force, which the president wants and which my caucus is concerned about, and paid family leave," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Calif., told Bloomberg News in an interview last month, when asked about the spending negotiations. Smith added, "The White House has made clear they won't sign a bill unless it has the Space Force in it."

Trump has been enthusiastic about Space Force for more than a year. In 2018, he told a military audience in San Diego, "We may even have a Space Force, develop another one: Space Force. We have the Air Force, we'll have the Space Force. We have the Army, the Navy. You know, I was saying it the other day - because we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space - I said, 'Maybe we need a new force. We'll call it the Space Force.' And I was not really serious. And then I said, 'What a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that.'"

A senior defense official with knowledge of Space Force discussions said Thursday that the Air Force convened a planning task force months ago, and is weighing "myriad" issues, including how service members would be transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force, what Space Force uniforms would look like, and what rank structure would be used.

Under former defense secretary Jim Mattis and former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, there was opposition to the creation of a Space Force at top levels of the Pentagon. But current U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and new Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett have been supportive, a defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"We're all in, and we're going to do this expeditiously," the official said.

Still, there are a variety of more complicated issues that will take the Pentagon time to hammer out, the official said. They include logistical issues like where Space Force headquarters will be housed in the Pentagon and practical ones like whether the Space Force will have its own security forces on the ground or rely on other branches of service.

For federal employees, the deal represents not just a rare new benefit, but a victory in a three-year war with the Trump administration that from the start was suspicious of the career bureaucracy of 2.1 million employees.

The White House has gone to war with unions that represent federal workers and won. In recent months it has gotten reprieves from the courts over a union challenge to a series of White House executive orders designed to weaken labor's hand in collective bargaining.

The administration has slashed long-established benefits like telework in many agencies and taken steps to more aggressively fire workers it deems poor performers. And while Trump has proposed a raise for the workforce for next year, he did not want an increase this year until Congress intervened, demanding it under the terms of a budget agreement that ended the partial government shutdown.

"This is a long overdue policy used by every other major employer in the United States and across the world," said Jessica Klement, staff vice president for policy and programs at the National Active of Retired Federal Employees, which pushed for the family leave policy.

She said the new benefit will be crucial for recruitment and retention of top talent in the government, which is facing a retirement wave with just 6% of its employees under 30.

It could not be immediately learned how much the parental leave or Space Force changes might cost in terms of new spending for the federal budget.

- - -

The Washington Post's Dan Lamothe, Lisa Rein, and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

This article was written by Jeff Stein, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa, reporters for The Washington Post.