House subcommittee votes to add employee, retiree benefits

A House Government Reform subcommittee approved three bills Tuesday benefiting federal workers and retirees, although the measures are unlikely to become law in the near future.

One of the most contentious bills would allow federal retirees to pay their health insurance premiums with pretax dollars--a practice known as "premium conversion." The bill (H.R. 994), introduced by Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and co-sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Jon Porter, R-Nev., also moved through the committee smoothly last year, but was eventually blocked by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

A spokesman for Thomas did not return calls about the premium conversion legislation.

Another bill, the GOFEDS Act (H.R. 1765), allows government workers who receive federal student loan repayments to receive the the benefit on a tax-free basis.

Davis praised the approval of the two measures. "Today represents a positive step forward for federal employees, retirees and military personnel," he said in a press release. "We must continue to improve the ability of the federal government to recruit, reward and retain talented people. Expanding premium conversion and making student loan repayments tax-free are two common-sense reforms that are important benefits to the federal family."

The House subcommittee also backed legislation (H.R. 1283) sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., requiring agencies to provide tax-free transportation benefits to employees in the Washington area. The legislation also would allow agencies to provide transportation directly to and from federal office buildings for employees traveling on public transportation.

"I believe yesterday's committee passage gives us the momentum necessary to get a federal employee transit bill enacted this Congress," Moran said. "As the region's largest employer, the federal government should set an example by providing this benefit to all qualified federal employees in the region, regardless of whether they work for the executive branch, the judicial branch or an independent agency."

Moran called Washington's Metro system one of the "most environmentally sound and efficient" forms of transportation for federal employees.

Porter praised all three measures. "These three bills represent the full range of a federal employee's career, including retirement," Porter said. "Taken together, these bills aid recruitment of high-level college graduates, ease commuting for all federal employees and relieves some of the tax burden of our retirees."

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