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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Docking Pay

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Lawmakers and the Obama administration continue to seek ways to shrink the government's deficit, and federal employee pay continues to be a target.

The Office of Personnel Management on Monday published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would eliminate the 10-year statute of limitations on garnishing the wages of federal employees who owe the government money. The rule also clarifies that the amount deducted from paychecks cannot exceed 15 percent of disposable pay, unless a court has ordered a larger deduction, or an employee agrees in writing to a bigger cut.

The proposed regulation, which was mandated by an amendment to the 2008 Food, Conservation and Energy Act, would apply to current debts older than a decade. "For these debts, creditor agencies must certify to the secretary of the Treasury that the notice of intent to offset was sent to the debtor after the debt became 10 years delinquent," the notice stated. "This is intended to alert the debtor that his or her debt may now be collected by offset and allows the debtor additional opportunities to dispute the debt, enter into a repayment agreement, or otherwise avoid offset." The term offset in this case refers to wage garnishment.

A spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees said the union is reviewing the proposed regulation to determine if it exceeds what is allowed under the statute. Comments on the draft rule must be received by July 1.

Pay and Benefits Parity

Even in the current austere budget environment, some lawmakers are trying to protect the pay and benefits of federal employees and their families. Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., has introduced a bill (H.R. 1688) that would ensure civilian employees serving at joint military installations affected by the latest round of Base Realignment and Closure don't get their pay docked as a result of BRAC. The legislation would mandate that employees receive locality pay at a percentage equal to that of the installation with the highest locality pay rate whenever two or more military institutions residing in different paybands are reorganized, or otherwise associated as a single joint military installation.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has reintroduced a bill (S. 874) he has been pushing since 2007 to protect the surviving spouses of deceased veterans. These spouses are entitled to receive the veteran's compensation for the month of death, according to a 1996 law, but as a result of an error by the Veterans Affairs Department in 2007, some surviving spouses were asked to repay the government. VA since has implemented a new notification system and corrected the errors, but Akaka's bill could give surviving spouses legal recourse if they are asked to return lawful month-of-death payments.

In addition, Akaka's bill would improve housing loan benefits for veterans' families. The legislation would allow the spouse or dependent children of an active-duty veteran to satisfy occupancy requirements on property financed with housing loan benefits, if the veteran was unable to do so because of active-duty status.

 

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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