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

Don’t Give Up on a Pay Raise

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Congress so far has been mum on whether to grant federal employees a pay raise in 2013. That silence, however, doesn’t necessarily mean government workers aren’t going to get one.

The 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act allows the president through an executive order to set a pay raise for government employees if Congress doesn’t specify one and doesn’t pass legislation prohibiting it. None of the usual spending bills for fiscal 2013 in either chamber contain any provisions related to a pay raise. But they also don’t mention anything about an extended pay freeze either. The House has passed some stand-alone legislation that would prolong the federal civilian salary freeze anywhere from another one to three years.

Unless both chambers pass legislation, either stand-alone or through the annual appropriations process, it’s up to President Obama to decide whether federal employees will receive a pay boost in 2013. Obama, who has until Aug. 31 to officially announce a proposed raise, has recommended a 0.5 percent bump for government workers next year. This summer the White House issued veto threats for fiscal 2013 spending bills, noting among other objections they do not contain a pay raise for civilian employees. The House has approved a 1.7 percent raise for military service members in 2013, as has the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House has passed six of the 12 fiscal 2013 appropriations bills so far; the Senate is 0 for 12. With only a handful of legislative days on the calendar between now and Sept. 30, it’s likely Congress will pass a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown before the elections. Lawmakers reportedly agreed on a six-month stopgap measure before leaving for recess. That bill could contain a provision prohibiting feds from a pay boost, but that’s unlikely. What is more likely is Obama will throw federal workers a bone, despite the government’s budget crisis, and offer them a 0.5 percent raise for next year. That move would carry more political weight than anything else, since many federal employees have said they don’t believe such a small bump would make much difference in their wallets.

Another possibility, which is much less likely, is that Obama and Congress will allow FEPCA to take effect. Under FEPCA, feds’ pay raise for 2013 would be 1.2 percent (the change in the Employment Cost Index, which is 1.7 percent, minus 0.5). The president and Congress, however, usually decide to give feds a pay raise that’s either higher or lower than that formula. Given the political and fiscal environment, the odds are a 2013 pay raise won’t be more generous than Obama’s recommendation. Stay tuned.

Burial Rights

The Veterans Affairs Department will provide burial services for vets in rural areas lacking VA or tribal vets’ cemeteries. The Rural Initiative Plan will build small national veterans burial grounds within existing public or private cemeteries in places where the vet population is 25,000 or less within a 75-mile radius, according to a department press release.

The department will create eight such burial grounds in Fargo, N.D.; Rhinelander, Wis.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Laurel, Mont.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Cedar City, Utah; Calais, Maine; and Elko, Nev.

“VA will provide a full range of burial options and control the operation and maintenance of these lots. These sections will be held to the same ‘national shrine’ standards as VA-run national cemeteries,” the release said.

Earlier this year, news broke of major problems at VA-run cemeteries, including misplaced headstones and people buried in the wrong plots.

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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