It's been more than a year since the Defense Department and employee unions worked out nine proposals for improving civilian pay and benefits. More buyouts, more attractive early retirement offers and more help for employees affected by base closures are some of the legislative proposals DoD sent up to the Office of Management and Budget as part of this year's budget process.
But OMB is still vetting those proposals, Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel policy, said last week.
Unlike military personnel, for whom the Clinton administration and Capitol Hill lawmakers have been engaged in a who-can-boost-benefits-more battle this year, civilian personnel have received little attention.
The Defense Department launched a review of civilian personnel policy as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review in 1997. One of the ideas proposed in that review, as described in an Aug. 11, 1997 memorandum from Disney, was creating a special civilian personnel system for DoD under Title 10 of the U.S. Code. Title 10 governs military personnel policy. Title 5 of the U.S. Code governs all civilian personnel of the federal government, including DoD.
DoD backed away from the Title 10 proposal amid federal union opposition, and eventually developed nine modest civilian pay and benefits proposals with union support (those nine proposals are listed at the end of this article). But even those recommendations have not received the final OK from the administration so they can be sent up to Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is considering about 40 pay and benefits changes for all of the government's civilian personnel. But that effort, too, has yet to gather much steam.
Even the simple issue of pay parity-making sure civilian employees get the same pay raises each year as military personnel-has not received across-the-board support. Though the Senate endorsed pay parity as part of S. 4, its multi-billion dollar package of pay and retirement improvements for military personnel, the House did not approve the idea. Rep. James Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment expressing support for parity during House Budget Committee consideration of this year's budget resolution, but his proposal was defeated.
Mark Gable, legislative director for the Federal Managers Association, said federal employee-friendly lawmakers, like Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Moran and others, are making a strong effort to get pay parity. Gable also said long-term care insurance and other benefit proposals for civilian personnel will likely gather support this year.
"The mentality on Capitol Hill is, we're looking at a $100 billion surplus, so why pick the pockets of federal employees?" Gable said. "It's better than we've done in previous years."
In addition, Gable noted that the Federal Employees Retirement System is a good deal for employees, many of whom will retire with healthy nest eggs from investments in the Thrift Savings Plan. The military retirement system is in need of more attention, Gable noted.
The House has not yet approved the military pay and retirement package. By the time the House gets around to debating it, perhaps either DoD or the Clinton administration will have made some headway on efforts to address deficiencies in the civilian pay and benefits system.
The following nine proposals for the Defense Department are being vetted through the Pentagon and the White House:
- Establishing permanent buyout authority.
- Establishing permanent early retirement authority.
- Lessening the early retirement penalty. Currently when employees take early outs, their pensions are permanently reduced by two percent for each year they are under age 55. The DoD proposal would allow employees to make lump-sum payments to offset the early out penalty, so their pensions would be the same as if they had retired later.
- Extending the authority to pay up to $10,000 for retraining or relocation expenses for former DoD employees when their bases close.
- Amending transfer rules to make it easier for the department to relocate employees as DoD consolidates operations.
- Reinstating the Alternative Form of Annuity option, which would allow DoD employees to withdraw their retirement contributions in a lump sum and receive a reduced annuity.
- Permitting employees who are laid off and eligible for severance pay to remain on non-duty pay status until they become eligible for an immediate annuity.
- Repealing the restriction on using government funds to pay for required examinations, licenses and certifications.
- Lifting the restriction on using training funds for educational degrees.