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

Pay Raise Progress, Protections Against Layoffs, a Delay in SafeTrack Relief and More

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The past week brought some good news on next year’s civilian pay raise. The House passed its version of the fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which – by virtue of staying silent on the issue – would allow President Obama’s proposed 1.6 percent 2017 raise to move forward.

Unfortunately for some Senior Executive Service employees, however, the House version of the bill also included a ban on SES bonuses at the agencies covered, including the Internal Revenue Service, General Services Administration, and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, U.S. Postal Service employees and retirees are in line for several major changes to their benefits. The American Postal Workers Union and USPS late last week reached an agreement with the help of an arbitrator that will grant covered career employees a 3.8 percent pay raise over the 40 months of the contract. The agreement also includes protections against layoffs, and places a moratorium on plant closures until April 2017.

In other postal news, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a major bipartisan reform bill that – among other provisions – would require postal retirees electing to receive federal health insurance to enroll in Medicare parts A and B as their primary care provider. The bill would phase out the Postal Service’s share of retirees’ Medicare premiums over four years. Most postal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would have to select a plan specific to USPS workers.

The postal reform bill was one of several items the committee marked up during an afternoon session. The panel had also planned to address a measure that would have allowed federal employees in the Washington, D.C., area to use their mass transit benefits for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft during the Metrorail’s year-long SafeTrack program of repairs. But that bill was tabled until September.

The Office of Personnel Management has said agencies should establish their own policies for keeping workers productive during SafeTrack, which will entail continuous single-tracking on some rail line segments for several weeks at a time, and will close down other portions of track entirely for as long as 23 days. Agencies should consider maximizing use of workplace flexibilities such as telework during the repairs, OPM said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., one of the sponsors of the postponed ridesharing bill (H.R. 5647), has also encouraged telework. In the event that isn’t feasible, “the ridesharing economy offers a unique and flexible alternative until full Metro service is restored and should be an option for our federal workforce as they maintain a continuity of operations for the federal government,” said Connolly when introducing the bill with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

“During a time when WMATA is getting its house in order, federal commuters have been frustrated at their lack of options for getting in to work,” Meadows said at the time. “Many of the frequent, random delays on the Metro have caused some federal workers to arrive late, miss meetings, or lose out on valuable work time. This bill will allow federal workers to expand their commuting options and not require them to depend on a sole, unreliable form of transportation.”

The two-month delay in considering the ridesharing bill is likely to leave feds looking for quick relief from SafeTrack expenses and inconveniences disappointed.  

Finally, for those still looking for a way into federal service, the House earlier this week overwhelmingly passed the 2016 TALENT Act (H.R. 5658), which would codify the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. The program – established in 2012 – brings in private sector technology whizzes and entrepreneurs to work for one year alongside federal employees on projects aimed at “saving lives, saving taxpayer money, fueling job creation, and building the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within government.”

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