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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Can Feds Use the Student Loan Repayment Benefit For Their Kids?

I’ve been writing recently about the federal student loan repayment benefit since House Republicans again targeted it for elimination this month. The benefit, which helps eligible federal employees pay off federally insured student loans, has been around for more than a decade. But it’s not a widespread perk because it’s not implemented in the same way across government. Some agencies don’t offer it at all because they don’t need to (they don’t have problems recruiting or retaining highly-skilled employees for hard-to-fill jobs), or they simply lack the funds to do so. Others agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, actively encourage employees to apply for the benefit and hold an annual “Open Season” for it.  

One interesting question that has cropped up among Government Executive readers so far: Can federal employees use the benefit to help repay their children’s outstanding student loans? Yes, as it turns out -- a fact that may surprise some of you. But you can’t use the benefit if you’re an employee and your parents need help repaying their student loans.

Here’s what the Office of Personnel Management has to say about it:

Q: May a parent ...

More Than 15,000 Federal Employees Make at Least $200K

Most of the discussion of pay for federal employees in recent months and years has been about insufficient or non-existent raises, pay gaps and budget shortfalls.

Not all feds are making out so poorly, however.

A new database compiled by FedSmith.com, using data from the Office of Personnel Management and other agencies, shows more than 15,000 federal employees earned at least $200,000 in 2013. That’s roughly 1 percent of all federal workers on the list; some employees in national security positions were not included in the database.

The vast majority of the top 1 percent of feds were doctors at the Veterans Affairs Department. The highest earning employee was a Veterans Health Administration doctor in Pittsburgh, who took in just more than $400,000 last year. More than 1,200 employees made more than $300,000.

Other agencies that require a highly specialized workforce paid several employees at least $200,000, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Financial Housing Finance Agency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

All of these employees are paid on systems specific to their agency ...

Obese Feds Can Now Have Their Diet Pills Covered

The best means to achieving weight loss is through diet and exercise.

So says the Office of Personnel Management and, well, everyone.

OPM has acknowledged there are other means to shed the pounds, however, including through the use of “drug therapy.” Several anti-obesity medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and OPM said in 2015 providers on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program cannot exclude coverage of them on the basis of lifestyle or cosmetics.

“We want to clarify that excluding weight loss drugs from FEHB coverage on the basis that obesity is a ‘lifestyle’ condition and not a medical one or that obesity treatment is ‘cosmetic’-- is not permissible,” OPM wrote in a March letter to carriers.

The human resources agency implored providers to take care to ensure their enrollees are using the drugs appropriately, as weight loss pills “may be subject to abuse and misuse.” Consumption of weight loss drugs should always accompany the “mainstays” of diet and physical activity, OPM said.

OPM noted the Veterans Affairs Department’s VA MOVE! program as a model. That program requires employees to participate in a diet and behavior modification plan before qualifying for pills.

More Convenient Weight Loss ...

Military Families Worry About Possible Commissary Closures

Salary, health insurance and retirement benefits most often spring to mind when federal employees think of compensation. But for military personnel and their families, another perk is just as important: the heavily-subsidized commissaries on base where they buy food and other goods. The Pentagon is proposing a 71 percent reduction in subsidies to the stores in its fiscal 2015 budget, and according to a new survey, most middle-class career military families are worried such a drastic cut would really hurt.

Two-thirds of military families in pay grades E-6 and above with household incomes of at least $50,000 per year “identify commissaries as an important part of their current compensation as well as future retirement benefits,” said the latest survey from the First Command Financial Behaviors Index released this week. Three out of four survey respondents said eliminating the taxpayer-subsidized benefit “would negatively impact their families,” the report said.

“Commissaries are an important benefit for not only lower-income, junior members of the military, but also our higher-ranking men and women in uniform who earn solidly middle-class incomes,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services Inc. “Our survey respondents estimate that they spend almost half of their monthly grocery ...

Have a Clearance? You Can Earn a Lot More Outside Government

If you have a security clearance, it pays to be in the private sector.

That is the takeaway from a new report from ClearanceJobs.com, a company that matches cleared individuals to companies searching for new employees.

Government employees with security clearances earn $86,218 on average, according to the survey of more than 20,000 individuals, while typical “independent consultants” make more than $114,000. Cleared contractors fall in between, averaging just shy of $100,000 annually.

Civilian federal employees with clearances do better than their military counterparts, who earn about $70,000 on average, according to the survey. Overall, average pay for individuals with security clearances dipped just 1 percent in 2013, which ClearanceJobs.com said was an impressive feat in a year that saw a government shutdown, furloughs, sequestration and budget cuts.

The “big five” intelligence agencies -- the National Reconnaissance Office, CIA, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency -- all fell in the top six federal agencies in compensation for cleared employees. NRO topped the list, with security-cleared workers earning an average of $117,258. The State Department -- which paid cleared employees an average of $109,000 -- was fourth on the list.

This ...