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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Find Your Co-workers’ Salaries, Telework During Metro Repairs and More

Feds in the Washington area might want to think about sprucing up their home offices.

The Office of Personnel Management has established an interagency working group through the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to determine how federal agencies can minimize disruption from the recently announced year-long SafeTrack plan to repair and upgrade the Metrorail system. This will be no easy task, as capital region federal employees take more than 250,000 trips on the Metro each week, and make up about one-third of the system’s riders, according to data from PlanItMetro, a blog from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

One of the key elements of ensuring smooth operations during SafeTrack will be telework. In a May 20 memorandum to chief human capital officers and human resources officials, OPM acting Director Beth Cobert said agencies will be allowed to establish their own specific policies for working around the project, which will shut down some portions of track for several weeks at a time and create significant delays on other sections due to extended single-tracking. “Given the scope, duration and nature of the disruptions, the impact to agencies in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area will vary,” Cobert wrote. “That...

An Almost-Routine Pay Freeze, Defending Senior Execs’ Bonuses, Bonding With Trump and More

For federal employees tired of lawmakers’ frequent attacks on their pay and benefits, it may be comforting to know that House members are giving themselves a dose of their own medicine.  The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a fiscal 2017 legislative branch spending bill that would freeze representatives’ pay for the eighth consecutive year. This is more than double the length of the three-year pay freeze civilian federal employees endured from 2011 to 2013.

Rank-and-file members of Congress now receive an annual salary of $174,000; the House Speaker earns $223,500 per year, while the Senate president pro tempore and the majority and minority leaders in both chambers each receive an annual salary of $193,400. The last pay boost members received took effect on Jan. 1, 2009, increasing the annual salary of rank-and-file lawmakers by $4,700 – from $169,300 in 2008 to the current level of $174,000.

While a congressional pay raise is unlikely in this political climate, some have argued that members of Congress really do need a salary boost to keep up with the high cost of living in the Washington region. Stagnant pay risks creating two classes of lawmakers: the short-timers and...

Tuition Assistance Hike, TRICARE Changes, Military Pay and More

Military personnel can expect higher pay and changes to their health benefits next year, although the details are still being worked out. Earlier this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel cleared the National Defense Authorization Act with a 1.6 percent pay raise for troops.

That was half a percent lower than the pay raise included in the House version of the legislation.

As Kellie Lunney reported Tuesday:

The Senate panel’s 1.6 percent figure is the same amount that President Obama has recommended for the military and federal civilian employees in his fiscal 2017 budget. But, like last year, House lawmakers have decided to fully fund the 2017 raise for service members, which according to the formula, would be 2.1 percent in 2017. The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages.

The two chambers will likely have to agree on a final number during conference committee. If this year is like last year, the Senate’s smaller pay increase will prevail.

The other big compensation news in the Senate version relates to military health care benefits...

Military Pay Raise, Federal Hiring, VA Firing and More

Military personnel would receive a 2.1 percent pay raise next year under a major House bill that lawmakers have advanced.

The House Armed Services Committee approved last Thursday the massive fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the salary boost. The 2.1 percent bump is 0.5 percentage points higher than the 1.6 percent raise President Obama recommended for the military and civilians in his fiscal 2017 budget.

The 2.1 percent figure is in line with the anticipated 2017 cost-of-living adjustment. (The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages.) The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, is likely to stick with the administration’s proposal, which is what has happened in the recent past.

A 1.6 percent pay raise could save the Defense Department more than $300 million in fiscal 2017, officials have said.

The fiscal 2017 Defense authorization bill also would create a new TRICARE enrollment fee for active-duty service members who join the military after Jan. 1, 2018 (active-duty personnel currently don’t pay TRICARE enrollment fees). However, the House committee rejected an administration proposal...

Problems Voting Overseas, Financial Management Help, Fair Pay Dustup and More

The 2016 presidential election is drawing attention to the highly decentralized nature of the U.S. election system, where every state seems to operate according to a unique set of rules and deadlines. For military personnel and federal employees serving overseas, figuring out how to vote absentee makes the process even more daunting.

There’s help available for navigating the voting process from overseas. But as the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a report last week, the help itself is confusing to many. To its credit, the Defense Department has taken steps to improve voter assistance efforts through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. But as GAO notes:

“Two long-standing issues—limited awareness of resources for voters and the unpredictable postal delivery of absentee ballots—continue to pose challenges. DOD-commissioned studies and post-election survey results indicate that there is limited awareness of FVAP's resources among military and overseas voters. A 2015 study found, for example, that the online availability of blank ballots led to one of the most significant improvements in military and overseas absentee voting. At the same time, the full benefits of the improvement had not been realized because voters remained unaware that ballots could be requested...