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

A Gloomy Fall Forecast for Fed Pay, Benefits

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Just a few weeks remain before fall returns, ushering in yet another season of stress and uncertainty for federal employees.

There’s the threat of a government shutdown, the impending political battle over raising the debt ceiling, the possibility of more furloughs or even layoffs because of sequestration, and the fear that Congress will freeze federal salaries for a fourth consecutive year. All of those scenarios adversely affect federal pay one way or another, not to mention morale, recruitment and retention.

So, what do federal retirees have to look forward to? In October, the government will announce the 2014 cost-of-living adjustments, and it’s looking like the percentage will be smaller than the 2013 figure.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the 2014 COLA will be around 1.5 percent. That’s slightly less than the 1.7 percent boost that federal retirees and Social Security beneficiaries received this year. It’s a lot less than the 3.6 percent increase they received in 2012. Still, it’s better than zero, which is what current federal employees are looking at if Congress decides to extend the freeze on their across-the-board annual pay adjustment.

CBO’s estimate was tucked into a cost estimate for a Senate bill that would increase the amount paid to veterans for disability compensation and to their survivors for dependency and indemnity compensation to the same COLA available to federal retirees and Social Security recipients.

Of course, the 1.5 percent COLA estimate is just that: an educated guess based on available information to date. The annual COLA is based on the percentage increase (if any) in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. The CPI-W measures price changes in food, housing, gas and other goods and services.

September’s inflation figure is the final data point needed to calculate the 2014 COLA. Stay tuned.

Salary Sleuth

Want to know how much a certain public affairs specialist at the Homeland Security Department earns? Check out GovernmentSalaryData.com, an online searchable database that provides pay information on federal jobs, agencies and specific employees nationwide. It’s the latest tool aimed at making publicly available salary data easier to find.

The average annual salary for a public affairs specialist in the federal government is $98,849, according to the website. A brief search of employees with that title working in Washington, D.C., shows many salaries over $100,000.

Benefits Survey

The Office of Personnel Management will survey a random selection of federal employees this summer on the quality of their benefits, well-being and their efforts at healthy living.

OPM will administer the Federal Employee Benefits Survey via email to the random sample of participants and employees can complete the 15-minute survey during work hours, said acting Director Elaine Kaplan in a memorandum to agencies.

The last such survey was in 2011.

The 2013 survey will be available online for a month with periodic reminders sent to respondents.

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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