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Teleworking in the Snow, TSP Security Changes and More

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Ready for Snowpocalypse 2016?!

Forecasters are predicting a major winter storm to hit the East Coast starting on Friday and lasting through the weekend, potentially dumping between 12 and 20 inches of snow in the immediate Washington metropolitan region. So the main question is whether the federal government will be closed in D.C. on Friday, or whether the Office of Personnel Management – the agency that makes the call in such circumstances – will open for business that day and stagger the departures of federal employees who come into work that day.  

In December, OPM announced no changes for this winter to its policy on closing Washington-area federal agencies during bad weather. But that doesn’t mean the policy is straightforward. OPM is encouraging federal employees and agencies to bone up on their options for working or taking leave during any emergency that hits the D.C. region over the next year.

Federal workers and agencies need to be well-versed on their telework status and policies before an emergency happens, so they know whether they have to work or not when the government’s operating status is disrupted.

The government has several options when determining its operating status. For example, agencies can be open with the option of unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework; open with delayed arrival; closed; or operating under early dismissal, which in turn affects employees’ work schedules. Because there is so much fine print involved, it’s important for employees and agencies to review all the options for work and leave ahead of time.

Click here for announcements on the status of government operations in Washington, D.C., and here to access OPM’s mobile app.

OPM Press Secretary Sam Schumach said on Wednesday that the agency is still monitoring the weather situation, and that it was a little early to schedule a phone call with stakeholders to decide on the government’s operating status. “I’m hoping we will know more tomorrow,” Schumach said, perhaps by late morning or early afternoon.

We’ll keep you posted….

If you’re snowbound at home this weekend, you might as well check up on your retirement nest egg.

On Jan. 16, the board that administers the Thrift Savings Plan, rolled out some new online security features – prompts for enrollees to create verification questions for when they access their TSP accounts. These types of personal challenge questions -- e.g., What was the color of your first car? What is your mother’s maiden name? – have become increasingly common as people do more of their financial and other business online.

Kim Weaver, director of external affairs at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, said the board has planned to introduce this security mechanism for a while, and that it was not in response to the Office of Personnel Management hack that came to light last year. Weaver said on Tuesday that 70,000 TSP enrollees already had picked out their questions, and so far everything’s running smoothly. “I have not heard that we’ve had increased calls to our call center,” Weaver said. If you’ve got questions, call 1-877-968-3778 and choose option 3.

If you are military spouse or child, you also could spend the weekend applying for scholarships. Army Emergency Relief, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to active and retired soldiers, offers scholarships to help dependents pay for school. The deadline for the 2016-2017 school year is May 1, and the application process is online. In 2015, the awards, which are based on need, ranged from $500 to $3,300.

“Most applicants will need to provide transcripts (through the fall semester), the Student Aid Report (SAR) from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the Soldier’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) for active duty soldiers,” said a press release from the group.

The Military Officers Association of America also just announced the deadline for its 2016-2017 school year scholarship. Eligible children of military personnel have to apply by March 1 if they want the shot at interest-free loans and grants for up to five years of undergraduate study. MOAA doled out nearly $9.3 million to more than 1,700 military families in 2015.

Curious about what’s going on with the elusive phased retirement program? Check out our latest update on which agencies have rolled out their programs, according to OPM. There may be other agencies that haven’t reported to OPM, so if your agency isn’t on the list, and you know phased retirement is being offered, let us know.

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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