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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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A COLA Hike for Some, Transgender Coverage for Others

There’s some good news for service members serving in Germany and Turkey. They’ll see a cost of living increase by as much as 100 percent in some cases, starting with their Feb. 15 paycheck, according to Military.com.

Army officials said COLA is going up in Germany because goods and services here cost more than they do in the United States, as revealed by data collected from recent surveys asking military members where they shop and how much they buy on base versus off base,” Military.com reported Monday.

The Defense Travel Management Office has a COLA calculator here.

The Pentagon wants TRICARE to start covering hormone treatment for those who suffer from gender dysphoria, which occurs when individuals don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The Defense Department published a proposed rule change in the Federal Register Monday that would make treatment available to service members and their dependents:

This rulemaking proposes to remove the categorical exclusion on treatment of gender dysphoria. This proposed change will permit coverage of all non-surgical medically necessary and appropriate care in the treatment of gender dysphoria, consistent with the program requirements applicable for treatment of all mental...

A Second Chance to Change Health Plans, TSP News and More

Not happy with the health plan you chose during open season? You will have a second chance starting next week to modify your benefits.

The Office of Personnel Management is hosting a “limited enrollment period” from Feb. 1 to Feb. 29 for Federal Employees Health Benefits Program participants who decide they want to switch to this year’s new self-plus-one offering. The self-plus-one option in most cases is cheaper than family coverage, though OPM has encouraged enrollees to double check that this is true for their particular plan.

The human resources agency emphasized in an announcement Wednesday that the limited enrollment period is not another open season. It only applies to active federal employees who want to move from a family plan into a self-plus-one plan.

“A record number of FEHB enrollees made enrollment changes during the recent open season, but we know there are still some enrollees in self and family who can benefit from changing their enrollment to self-plus-one,” said John O’Brien, director of healthcare and insurance at OPM.

For those who decide to make the switch, it will take effect on the first day of the first pay period after the change was requested, OPM said...

Teleworking in the Snow, TSP Security Changes and More

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...

Limiting the Pensions of Wealthy Ex-Presidents, Help With Retirement Decisions and More

President Obama’s parting State of the Union address didn’t offer much by way of concrete proposals that would affect federal employees. The president did, however, call for broader political reforms that public servants might welcome. He appealed to Americans to work together and have “rational, constructive debates” on issues ranging from the size of government to the meaning of liberty. This is unlikely to stop Republican lawmakers from placing federal employees’ pay and benefits on the chopping block, but it might at least change the tone of the discussion.

Meanwhile, Congress is moving ahead on several reforms to both protect federal workers but also hold them more accountable for their job performance. A bill passed by the House early this week would afford federal interns the same safeguards as other employees against sexual harassment and discrimination. Currently, interns fall under a loophole where they are vulnerable to abuse in government offices. An Environmental Protection Agency employee, for instance, reportedly targeted women at the agency – including interns – frequently, and was able to retire before being dismissed. During a July hearing, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the EPA was too slow and not harsh enough...

Pay Banding, TSP Changes and More

It’s still early, of course, but the biggest personnel news this year may be that the Defense Department is moving more civilian employees out of the General Schedule. GovExec’s Eric Katz has the story on how the Air Force is transitioning 13,000 civilians to what service officials believe will be a more flexible personnel system. The new system will consolidate 15 GS grades into four categories. While this so far affects relatively few federal employees, the Pentagon often serves as a test bed for wider workforce changes, so feds from other agencies might want to tune in to how this is working out.

Those near the end of their careers may be happy to know that the Office of Personnel Management continued to whittle away at the retirement claims backlog last month. OPM processed more claims than it received in December 2015 -- 5,916 v. 4,753 -- ending the year with a backlog of 11,399 claims, slightly less than the previous year’s year-end backlog. January is a peak time for employees to submit their retirement paperwork though. Last year at this time, the backlog spiked to 22,636 claims. While the majority of claims are...