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

New Travel Regs and Shopping Benefits, Retirement Hitches and More

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There’s been a lot of talk about phased retirement since Congress approved the practice in 2012, but not much action. The idea was to help agencies manage the loss of critical skills in the face of a retirement wave by allowing eligible federal employees to remain on the job part-time for a period before taking full retirement. But as Kellie Lunney reported in January, the program has been slow to get off the ground. Only 31 people across government had applied for the benefit then, and now a new report by Federal News Radio finds that seven months later, fewer than 100 employees have signed up for the opportunity.

According to FNR, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency top the list of agencies where employees are seeking phased retirement, with 19 and 16 employees, respectively.

Agencies have broad discretion in how they implement the program. The problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest on the part of employees. As Lunney noted earlier this year:

The reality is that lots of interested federal employees have not been able to take advantage of the program since OPM implemented itsfinal rules in August 2014 and began accepting applications in November 2014. That’s because many agencies either haven’t finalized phased retirement plans yet that meet the needs of their missions as well as collective bargaining agreements, or aren't offering the benefit to eligible employees. It’s also possible some federal employees don’t know what their options are, or just aren’t interested/eligible.

For those of you thinking about retirement, here’s a question worth asking: How old will you be when Social Security runs out? Helpfully, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has just the tool for you. This week CRFB released a handy calculator that allows you to type in your birth year and learn your age when the well runs dry. If you’re lucky, by that time you’ll actually be able to take advantage of phased retirement.

All honorably discharged veterans will soon be able to shop at military exchanges online, according to a report in Military Times. According to the paper, “The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted unanimously Aug. 9 to recommend the policy change, sources said. Extended shopping privileges would apply only to the exchange system's online stores—not brick-and-mortar facilities located on military installations.” 

The American Postal Workers Union announced that career employees they represent will receive a raise, at least nominally. A slight increase in the Consumer Price Index will result in a one-cent per hour cost-of-living adjustment effective Sept. 3, in accordance with the 2015-2018 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The increase, which will show up in paychecks Sept. 23, will total $21 per year, APWU said. It’s the first cost-of-living increase under the most recent contract that covers 2015-2018.

Are you a frequent speaker or panelist at non-government events? If so, you need to know about changes the General Services Administration wants to make to federal travel regulations. Specifically, GSA wants to change the definition of “payment in kind,” where conferences organizers will sometimes waive attendance fees for government speakers acting in their official capacity. As GSA explains:

Currently, with respect to a waiver of registration fees, the [Federal Travel Regulation] makes no distinction between employees who speak, serve on a panel, or deliver a presentation at a meeting or similar function, and other attendees. Because employees speak at these types of events to further the missions of their agencies as a necessary and customary part of their work activities, GSA proposes to redefine the travel purpose codes found in Appendix C of Chapter 301, which agencies use for travel reporting purposes. GSA also proposes to change in Chapter 304 that payments in kind from non-Federal sources do not include waiver of registration-type fees for speakers, panelists, or presenters at these types of events when the fees are waived for all speakers, panelists, or presenters. The proposed amendment would permit an agency to accept a waived registration fee for the duration of a multi-day meeting or similar function, even if the employee is only presenting on one day. Other types of travel expenses paid for by a non-Federal source, such as transportation, lodging expenses, or other associated event- or similar function-related activities, will still need to be reviewed in accordance with the regulations stated in Chapter 304.

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