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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Jobs for Military Spouses, Agency Layoffs, and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that it would develop regulations to remove the two-year time limit for spouses of military personnel who are relocated on permanent duty to have preferred status when applying for civilian federal government jobs.

The rule stating that spouses could only be considered for a “noncompetitive appointment” within the first two years after a service member is relocated was repealed as part of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization act, signed by President Obama in December 2016.

OPM said in an Aug. 8 memo that while it still is working on an update to its regulations, all agencies should consider the provision that allows for such hires to be available to spouses indefinitely.

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“Under the amended statute, a relocating spouse of a member of the armed forces remains eligible for noncompetitive appointment under this section for the duration of the spouse’s relocation to the permanent duty station of the member,” wrote acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan. “Section 1131 of the NDAA was effective upon the president’s signature, and agencies should apply the new provision when appointing certain...

OPM Announces Special Rate Review, Open Season Dates and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday that it would conduct its annual review of special rates for certain jobs on the General Schedule pay scale.

The agency authorizes higher rates of pay for specific jobs, grades and locations in order to aid the government’s ability to recruit and retain employees. Each year, OPM reviews these positions to see if rates should be adjusted based on recent staffing issues.

OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan asked in a memo that agencies send any requests for changes to or the elimination of existing special rates by Oct. 13. She stressed that agencies do not need to request that existing special pay rates remain the same—bearing in mind that OPM anticipates a 1.9 percent across the board pay raise for civilian employees as laid out in President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

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Requests for new special rate classifications are handled through a separate process. Any changes to existing special pay rates would take effect in January 2018.

McGettigan noted that Trump has until Aug. 31 to exercise his authority to formally propose a pay...

Trump Threatens To Ax Some Feds' Health Care Subsidies, OPM Rolls Out SES Plan, and More

As President Trump threatens to end cost-sharing subsidies for people purchasing insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, he has frequently described the payments as “bailouts” for the insurance industry and Congress.

“If ObamaCare is hurting people, [and] it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies [and] why should Congress not be paying what public pays?” Trump tweeted Monday.

In referencing the so-called “bailout” for Congress, he's calling into question the employer-funded portion of health insurance for a small number of federal employees: congressional staffers.

Before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, successfully amended the bill to require members of Congress and their aides to use the health care exchanges to acquire health insurance, instead of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

In 2013, the Office of Personnel Management implemented a rule that applies the percentage of premiums paid by the government under FEHBP to the plans selected by congressional employees on the Obamacare exchange. While the Grassley amendment does not apply to leadership or committee staff, reversing the OPM rule could drastically increase the health care costs for Congressional staff members.

It remains unclear whether Trump will follow through on his...

Lawmakers Advance Bills Regarding Official Time, TSP, VA Bonuses

A Senate panel advanced legislation Wednesday requiring the Office of Personnel Management to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by federal employees.

The bill (H.R.1293), approved by the House in May, requires OPM to detail the total amount of official time granted to employees, the average amount of official time used per employee, as well as the types of activities for which official time was granted.

Official time is the practice where federal employee union representatives are paid to conduct activities related to their representational duties—things like establishing workforce rules and supporting employees facing disciplinary action—rather than their normal job function. The bill approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week is one of a number of proposals from Republicans targeting the practice.

Although the bill was recommended favorably to the Senate floor by a voice vote, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said she wanted to formalize her vote in opposition, arguing that the bill seeks to “chip away” at a valuable practice for improving working conditions at agencies as well as promoting greater productivity.

“I saw that first hand at a naval shipyard when I...

Dueling Proposals for Feds’ Retirement Benefits, More Flexibility on TSP Withdrawals and More

Federal retirement benefits are now in the crosshairs of both the Trump administration and congressional Republicans.

House Republicans’ 2018 budget blueprint released Tuesday would require civil servants to contribute more to their own retirement funds to help decrease the budget deficit, and it would eliminate annuity supplements for Federal Employees Retirement System participants who stop working before they are eligible for Social Security benefits.

These benefit reductions mirror cuts President Trump proposed as part of his fiscal 2018 budget, though the House GOP plan is less specific about how the cuts would be enacted. The House blueprint does not define the size of the employee contribution increase, nor does it stipulate which employees would no longer receive annuity supplements—all future retirees or only new hires.

This would push the responsibility to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the legislative body that oversees the federal workforce. House Republicans mandated that the Oversight committee reduce the deficit by a minimum of $32 billion between fiscal 2018 and 2027, making the panel responsible for implementing retirement provisions as it sees fit.

Cuts pursued by the Oversight committee are likely to be less severe than those spelled out by Trump, though federal...