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

Two Locality Pay Proposals, Life After the Data Breach, D.C.-Area Salaries and More

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Federal employees (and anyone else who is interested) have one week left to comment on an Obama administration proposal that would result in a pay bump for 102,000 civilians in 13 metropolitan areas. The proposal would take those 13 cities out of the “rest of the United States” category for locality pay and grant them their own rates.

Regions with unique rates tend to do better than those lumped together in the catchall category. Employees in the “rest of U.S.” received a 14.16 percent bump on top of their annual base salaries in 2015, while those in the specific areas received between 15 percent and 35 percent bumps.

It seems hard to argue with a plan that would increase pay for so many. But there are some open questions, and this line from the proposed rule might interest those already in cities with their own rates: “Implementing higher locality pay rates in the 13 new locality pay areas could … result in relatively lower pay increases for employees in existing locality pay areas than they would otherwise receive.”

Comments are due by July 1, and can be submitted through Regulations.gov or by email to pay-leave-policy@opm.gov with “RIN 3206-AM88” in the subject line.

Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is attempting to address a smaller issue related to locality pay. Smith introduced the Joint Base Pay Parity Act (H.R. 2790) to fix a disparity that cropped up in 2009 when Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base and Lakehurst Naval Engineering station merged into a joint military installation. Civilian workers at Lakehurst earned higher salaries or hourly wages because they were part of the New York pay area, while those at Fort Dix and McGuire earned the lower Philadelphia area rate. The disparity was fixed for salaried workers, but not for wage scale employees.

Smith’s bill would eliminate the gap for all civilian employees at military installations that have been merged or reorganized. Employees at the reconfigured installations would all receive the same locality pay, equivalent to the highest of the rates available anywhere on the installation.

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst “is one installation, and the men and women who work there are part of one workforce,” Smith said in a Jan. 10 speech on the House floor, according to a Burlington County Times article on the issue. “It is time to fix this outdated policy, and I’m hopeful you’ll work with me to bring fairness to the roughly 20 percent of the workforce who do not receive equally earned pay.”

The bill was introduced June 16 and has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Other pay and benefits news this week centered on safeguarding the compensation federal employees have already earned, in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management’s massive data breach. Federal employee unions are lobbying OPM to expand the 18 months of credit monitoring and identity theft protection it is offering those affected by the breach.

The employee groups said lifetime credit monitoring is appropriate, since – as the American Federation of Government Employees put it -- “the breach may have been affecting [employees] for a full year before being disclosed by OPM and will potentially affect them throughout their lives.” Unions also requested retroactive coverage for any losses related to the breach, and wanted to ensure that credit scores would not be used as the only criteria for denying or revoking security clearances.

Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush weighed in on the breach as well, joining a growing chorus of politicians on both sides of the aisle in calling for OPM Director Katherine Archuleta to resign. "You have a political hack—you have the national political director of the Obama reelection campaign as the head of this," Bush said on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio program, referring to Archuleta. "And just as has been the case across the board when we have this sheer incompetence or scandalous behavior, there's no accountability. No one ever seems—no one seems to be fired. If I was president of the United States, that person would be fired."

Bush had another interesting theory on federal pay recently. Last week, he blamed high housing prices in Washington, D.C., on high salaries paid to federal workers. Statistics compiled recently by George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis shed a bit more light on those salaries. The average federal worker in the capital area earned 3.6 percent more in 2014 than in 2013, the study found, and the average D.C. fed’s salary in 2014 was $103,238. That compares to $66,287 in the private sector. 

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