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

Expanding Death Benefits, Cutting Pensions, Extra Holiday Time and More

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Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 5721, the Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act, to allow the families of overseas federal contractors killed in the line of duty access to full death benefits if the deceased employee is unmarried with no children or other dependents. Problems experienced by the family of former Navy SEAL and CIA security contractor Glen Doherty, who was killed during the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prompted the legislation, Lynch said. Also killed in that attack were U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Tyrone Woods, and U.S. State Department officer Sean Smith.   

Lynch noted that the Defense Base Act of 1941 requires overseas federal contractors to obtain insurance to make certain that injured workers are entitled to workers’ compensation for employment-related injuries and their survivors are entitled to death benefits in the event of a job-related tragedy. But the law doesn’t extend death benefits, aside from $3,000 in funeral expenses, to the family or designated beneficiary of a federal contractor killed in the line of duty overseas if they are unmarried with no dependents.

While Doherty was unmarried with no children, he activated his mandatory Defense Base Act insurance policy before deploying for a scheduled 54-day mission to Libya, believing that his policy would pay benefits in the event of his death, Lynch said.

H.R. 5721 would amend the Defense Base Act to ensure that full death benefits are extended to contractors’ families or designated beneficiaries. The bill also would provide retroactive death benefits to the designated beneficiaries or families of federal contractors who have been killed in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. 

"It is flatly wrong that the Defense Base Act requires federal workers to take out an insurance policy before they are deployed overseas and accepts the payment of insurance premiums from those workers, but does not provide death benefits to their families or estate solely based on marital and child status,” Lynch said. 

While Lynch is trying to expand death benefits for contractors, one of his colleagues wants to take away pension benefits for some feds—specifically misbehaving Veterans Affairs Department executives. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., plans to introduce legislation that would give the VA secretary the authority to reduce the retirement benefits of certain senior executives “to reflect the years of service during which they participated in actions that made them subject to removal.”

The legislation, still in draft form, would prevent senior executives about to be fired from retiring with full benefits. The secretary would be allowed to take away the government contribution portion of the pension for the time period in which the employee was engaged in behavior warranting removal. The rest would be returned to the employee in a lump sum.

In other benefits news, open season is, well, open. According to retirement guru Tammy Flanagan, it’s an opportunity to mine for gold or find lost cash. Don’t miss out.

Here’s a question we’ve been pondering: What’s the best way to improve flagging morale among beleaguered federal employees? An extra day off, of course! As we reported a few weeks ago, one enterprising employee in Oklahoma City is petitioning President Obama for an extra day off after the Christmas holiday. But the petition on We the People -- the White House website that invites citizens to request government action on things -- is still a few thousand votes short of achieving the 100,000 signature threshold required for a White House response, and time is running out.    

As the petition notes:

Federal Employees have dealt with pay freezes and furloughs over the past few years. Giving federal employees an extra holiday on Dec. 26th, 2014 would be a good gesture to improve morale of the federal workforce. Some bases are forcing their employees to take leave or LWOP because of base shut-downs on this day. This is also consistent with past practice. President Obama provided a full-day Monday Dec. 24, 2012 and a half-day off on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009. President George W. Bush provided a half-day holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2002, as well as several full days off the day before or after Christmas: Tuesday, December 24, 2001, Thursday, December 26, 2003, Tuesday, December 24, 2007, and Thursday, December 26, 2008. We urge President Obama to issue an executive order.   

The petition was created Oct. 20, which means there’s only one day left to hit the 100,000 signature target. By mid-day Nov. 19, there were 92,465 signatures, 7,535 short of the goal. Surely there are a few thousand feds out there who could use a four-day weekend in late December.

(Image via Tammy Venable/Shutterstock.com)

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