Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Trump Administration Targets Federal Compensation, Telework

The Trump administration’s new management agenda, released earlier this week, has significant implications for federal pay and benefits.

The agenda frames the issue by noting that “it is important to appropriately compensate personnel based on mission needs and labor market dynamics,” something the existing compensation system fails to do. The document then repeats the fiscal 2019 budget proposal to forgo an across-the-board pay increase while realigning “incentives by enhancing performance-based pay and slowing the frequency of tenure-based step increases.”

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The White House has asked lawmakers to create a $1 billion “interagency workforce fund” in fiscal 2018 for “targeted pay incentives” for employees. To that end, the Office of Management and Budget said it will work with Congress to overhaul statutes and regulations in need of updating.

In addition to pay reforms, the management agenda also reiterated a proposal to alter retirement benefits. Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon said that requiring feds to wait five years to vest into their pensions “just doesn’t make sense” for the modern workforce. The administration has proposed moving away from pensions altogether and toward a defined-contribution...

A Student Loan Repayment Inquiry, a New Travel Ban for Feds and More

The Office of Personnel Management is asking agencies to compile their annual reports on student loan repayments made on behalf of federal employees by the end of this month, including an analysis of the programs’ effectiveness.

OPM Director Jeff Pon sent a memo to departments Tuesday outlining the requirements for their student loan repayment reports for the 2017 calendar year. By law, agencies must submit reports each year on student loan repayment programs designed to recruit and retain highly qualified personnel, including information on the number of federal workers receiving the benefit, their job classification and the cost of the program.

Additionally, Pon, who was confirmed to his post by the Senate last week, solicited insight from agency leadership on the effectiveness of their respective student loan programs and ideas that could improve similar programs across the federal government.

“We also invite you to share any additional information regarding best practices, lessons learned, program effectiveness, metrics used to measure program success, business case evaluation factors, program impediments, or other relevant details about your agency’s use of student loan repayments as a recruitment or retention tool,” Pon wrote. “In addition, we encourage you to identify any ways to improve the...

Retirement Backlog Continues to Grow, Compensation Fund in Budget Won’t Be for Raises, and More

The annual flood of federal employee retirement claims spilled into February this year, as the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement backlog topped the 24,000 mark.

There were 13,290 new retirement claims filed last month, which marks a slight decrease from the 14,590 requests made in January, when the number of people leaving the federal civil service reaches its peak most years. But that figure is well above the total for the same time period in 2017, when only 9,114 people filed for retirement.

Although OPM increased the number of claims it processed last month, completing 9,532 requests over January’s 8,638, it barely made a dent in the backlog, which increased by nearly 4,000 to a total of 24,225. The agency’s monthly average processing time decreased from 63 days in January to 46 days. 

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The higher-than-usual February figures come after a month filled with gloomy policy proposals affecting federal employees. President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request included a pay freeze for all civilian feds, as well as a number of significant cuts to retirement...

A TSP Call Center Crunch, and Blended Retirement Hits a Milestone

When the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program underwent an effort to significantly upgrade the capacity of its customer-service phone line, officials expected wait times to improve. Instead, they grew by nearly two minutes last month.

Last year, the Thrift Savings Plan completed a massive upgrade to the hardware, software and overall capacity of its call center, the TSP Thriftline. The effort improved the call center’s reliability, made the IT environment more secure, and it quadrupled the number of available phone lines.

But officials said Monday that while the Thriftline is handling more calls than ever before, the amount of time that customers must wait before reaching a representative has grown as well. This is due to a combination of staffing shortages, increased efforts to validate customers’ identities, and a previously unmeasurable number of people who simply weren’t getting through to the answering system in the first place.

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

January is considered the peak season for TSP’s call center, as people examine or re-examine their investments and contributions and prepare for tax season. Over the course of last month, average...

A TSP Call Center Spike, Shutdown Back Pay and More

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management confirmed in a memo that any federal employee who was furloughed as the result of the hours-long government shutdown earlier this month will receive back pay.

Although Congress early on Feb. 9 approved a bill to fund the government until March 23 and to raise overall spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, the fact that lawmakers missed the Feb. 8 deadline meant that many feds spent at least a portion of their work day waiting on the government to officially reopen, said acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan.

OPM instructed agencies to use flexibility when considering employees’ pay and leave status and encouraged them to use “excused absence” status when appropriate. The agency’s instructions also indicated that a pay freeze on top political appointees and officials, in place since fiscal 2013, would remain in effect until the end of the current continuing resolution.

Participants in the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement program apparently were especially eager to discuss their investments with officials Tuesday, as the Thrift Savings Plan sent out a notification informing people that call center volume was higher than usual.

But the flood of calls was...