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

Retirement Requests Drop, Union Lobbies Ivanka Trump for Paid Parental Leave and More

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Ivanka Trump has been an advocate for increased parental leave. Ivanka Trump has been an advocate for increased parental leave. Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Office of Personnel Management saw a decrease in the number of new retirement claims it received in April, but the agency slowed down its processing of retirement requests too.

According to data released Monday by OPM, there were 6,581 new retirement claims last month, down from the 7,216 submitted in March. The rate of new claims has dropped consistently since the spike of 15,317 new claims filed in January.

But while the number of claims the agency processed surged to 10,602 claims in March, the pace slowed back down last month to 8,179 claims processed. And while the total number of outstanding claims dropped from 20,530 in March to 18,932 last month, the percentage of claims processed within 60 days dropped from 77 percent to 27 percent.

Meanwhile, even though the federal government has been spared from a shutdown – at least until this fall --  the Congressional Research Service released a report on the causes and effects of government closures, as well as what agencies can do better to prepare for them.

The report concluded, unsurprisingly, that shutdowns generally occur when Congress and the president cannot reach a deal on an annual budget by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1—and remain deadlocked when short-term spending bills expire.

While funding gaps have occurred over the years, they only began triggering full shutdowns following Justice Department legal opinions in 1980 and 1981, which were much more restrictive with regard to which activities were “allowable” during a funding gap.

CRS also noted the various effects of a government shutdown, including the furloughing of federal workers without pay, the uncertainty of back pay and the lapse in services from all three branches of government. And it highlighted OMB’s report on the 2013 shutdown, which noted the closure cost the federal government $2 billion in lost productivity and impacts on the recruitment and retention of federal workers.

The report suggested that Congress consider initiatives to improve the “quality and specificity” of agencies’ shutdown plans and establish a permanent structure for making, updating and publishing of plans.  CRS noted that shutdowns generally should be avoided since they could hurt the government’s ability to react to a crisis or national security emergency.

With the threat of shutdown at least temporarily gone, the National Treasury Employees Union is focusing on advocating for stronger benefits policies for members. NTEU President Tony Reardon urged White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump to support paid parental leave for federal workers in an open letter Wednesday.

Ivanka Trump has been an advocate for increased parental leave, though not specifically for federal employees.

“NTEU agrees that new parents should not lose pay as they welcome a child into their families,” Reardon wrote. “This Mother’s Day, join with us in asking Congress to pass the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act.”

That bill (H.R. 1022) would provide civil servants with six weeks of paid time off following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. New federal parents currently are eligible for 12 weeks of time off under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but that time is unpaid and they may have to dip into their sick and annual leave to avoid a major gap in paychecks.

Former President Obama in January 2015 signed a memorandum directing agencies to advance federal employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members. He also advocated for legislation granting six weeks’ paid leave.

Reardon argued that paid parental leave will improve the government’s effort to recruit and retain high-quality employees, in addition to providing more financial stability to new and expecting parents. The bill has yet to advance in either the House or Senate. 

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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