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

Budget Cuts, a Retirement Scam, the Latest on the 2018 Pay Raise, and More

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President Trump’s much-anticipated “skinny budget” released last week followed through on the new administration’s promise of substantial spending cuts in most areas except defense and border security. The budget blueprint unveiled Thursday would -- as expected -- boost Defense Department spending by $54 billion and Homeland Security by $2.8 billion. These increases would be offset by reductions elsewhere in the budget; 19 agencies would be eliminated entirely.

While the level of spending cuts outlined for civilian agencies in Trump’s plan would almost certainly require furloughs and layoffs, the budget document did not get into much detail about exactly how many federal jobs were on the line, with one big exception. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed 31 percent decrease over fiscal 2017 enacted spending levels would lead to the elimination of about 3,200 positions, the blueprint stated.

To see how much money your agency is slated to lose under Trump’s plan, click here. Keep in mind that the budget process is just getting underway and presidents’ proposals are just that – proposals. Congress must still approve the new spending levels for both fiscal 2018 and the dramatic reductions Trump also proposed for the remainder of this year.

Also keep an eye out for additional detail on the fiscal 2018 budget request later this spring. Trump is expected to release a full proposal in May, and that may fill in the gaps on issues such as the annual federal employee pay raise (or lack thereof). The “skinny” budget included a management section but did not put forth recommendations related to compensation. The Washington Post reported that Trump will propose a 1.9 percent pay hike for 2018, citing a senior budget official, but Government Executive has not yet been able to independently verify this figure.

Also coming later this spring or summer will likely be a debate over raising the debt ceiling. The ceiling had been statutorily suspended through last Wednesday, but starting on Thursday (March 16), the Treasury Department had to start taking measures to avoid a default until Congress acts to suspend or raise the limit again. One of those measures was suspending investments into the federal employee Thrift Savings Plan’s government securities (G) fund. The action is not unusual and will not hurt participants’ retirement savings in the long-run, TSP reassured them in an announcement.

“G Fund investors remain fully protected and G Fund earnings are fully guaranteed by the federal government,” TSP stated. “This statutory guarantee has effectively protected G Fund investors many times over the past 25 years. G Fund account balances will continue to accrue earnings and will be updated each business day, and loans and withdrawals will be unaffected.”

Speaking of retirement, the Office of Personnel Management is reminding federal annuitants to beware of a phone scam in which the scammer pretends to be an OPM employee and tells the annuitant that he or she must make an immediate payment or end their retirement benefits. Don’t fall for this and provide additional personal information or make a payment, OPM said, noting that its employees never make calls of this type even though the scammers may seem convincing and even use an altered OPM caller ID.

These are five signs you are dealing with a scam artist, according to OPM:

  • The caller demands immediate payment.
  • The caller demands that you pay a debt first before any appeal.
  • The caller asks that you pay using gift cards, prepaid debit or credit cards, wire transfers, Western Union, MoneyGram, or PayPal, etc.
  • The caller requests credit or debit card numbers over the phone or by email.
  • The caller threatens referral to a Magistrate, the police, or law enforcement.

Click here to learn more about OPM’s recommended response and procedures for reporting incidents.

In good news for current capital area feds, lawmakers are looking to ease some of the region’s commuting frustrations. A bill requiring the General Services Administration to write regulations allowing federal employees to be reimbursed for using Uber or other rideshare services on official travel took another step forward last week. The legislation (H.R. 274) passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 15. The bill passed the House in January; it is one of several measures aimed at alleviating the burden placed on federal employees in the Washington, D.C., region by Metrorail’s announcement last spring that it would undertake a year of extensive track repair and maintenance projects, causing significant disruptions for commuters.

GSA has already issued guidance clarifying that federal agencies should reimburse employees who use companies like Uber and Lyft for any travel on official business. But Modernizing Government Travel Act sponsor Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., has said the bill would bring further clarity and encourage more government use of ridesharing companies.

“We know that this increased engagement in the sharing economy will reduce federal spending and by passing our bill today, the House has agreed to our idea that we can save taxpayer dollars by bringing government travel into the 21st century,” Moulton said in September when the bill passed the House in the last Congress.

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