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

Super Committee Countdown

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The super committee's deficit reduction plan -- assuming there is one -- should be public by this time next week. It's anyone's guess what the 12-member panel will recommend, but it's a safe bet there will be something in the proposal that affects the federal workforce.

The question is, which proposal, or proposals, exactly? There is no shortage of recommendations floating around: extend the civilian pay freeze, eliminate step increases, shrink the federal workforce through attrition.

Anything is possible, but here's what's probable: an increase in federal employees' pension contribution rates. Republicans and Democrats both endorse the idea, and it would be relatively easy to implement, despite it being wildly unpopular with most of the federal workforce. It's not clear it will be a recommendation, or if it is, how much more employees will have to contribute to their defined benefit plans. The Obama administration has recommended a 1.2 percent increase over three years beginning in 2013; other proposals call for much higher increases.

The joint committee also could weigh in on shrinking the federal workforce through attrition. Reducing government rolls through attrition was a recommendation of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, created by President Obama and led by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson from Wyoming and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

Earlier this month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a bill that calls for hiring one federal employee to replace every three workers who retire or leave their job, shrinking the workforce across-the-board by 10 percent by 2015. It's unlikely that bill will reach the floor before the end of the legislative session and lawmakers could be waiting to see if something similar is included in the super committee's deficit reduction plan.

The committee must vote on its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan by Nov. 23.

Operation Hero Miles

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has introduced a bill that would expand the federal program that allows travelers to donate their frequent flier miles to military families to help defray the cost of visiting their injured loved ones. Operation Hero Miles also provides free round-trip airfare to military members recovering at military or VA medical centers as a result of injuries sustained in overseas conflicts. Cardin's legislation broadens the program to include donations in the form of hotel points or awards for free or reduced-rate lodging for deployed members and their families.

FEHBP Information Sessions

If you are looking for more information about the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program this open season, two Washington-area lawmakers are hosting sessions this week. On Thursday, Nov. 17, Maryland Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen -- a member of the super committee -- is holding a forum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Rockville at the Executive Auditorium Executive Office Building at 101 Monroe Street. On Saturday, Nov. 19, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., will host a similar information session at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The address is 12000 Government Center Parkway. Experts on federal health insurance plans and representatives of insurance carriers will be at both sessions to answer questions.

 

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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