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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Benefit Blackout, Veterans' Preference, a Bonus Ban and More

Some lawmakers are fighting to protect veterans' preference in federal hiring, pushing back against a measure that would limit the advantage to a one-time use.

The Senate included a provision to rein in veterans’ preference in the 2017 Defense authorization bill, to block the advantage after a veteran's first application for a federal job. Now, several House Democrats are looking to ensure that does not happen.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would prevent any funds from being spent to “revise any policy or directive” relating to veterans hiring preference. The spending bill is expected to receive consideration on the floor next month after the Fourth of July recess.

Another amendment to that bill would prevent senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service from receiving bonuses. Republicans have long sought to restrict or eliminate IRS bonuses, though their efforts have failed to prevent the agency from doling out $6 million in performance awards to top managers in the Office of Chief Counsel alone between 2010 and 2015.

“At a time of soaring deficits, and with a federal debt in excess of $19 trillion, allowing lavish...

Momentum on Phased Retirement, Scrutiny of Senior Exec Bonuses and More

The biggest benefits news this week may be that the Defense Department is on board with phased retirement. Defense civilians who have been employed at the department full time for at least three consecutive years and are retirement eligible will now be able to take advantage of the arrangement, so long as they obtain approval from an authorized manager within their component, said a June 21 memo from acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Peter Levine. “DoD components may limit the number of employees included in the Phased Retirement Program, as appropriate,” the memo noted.

Phased retirement allows eligible feds to work 20 hours per week, receiving half their pay as well as half their retirement annuity. Those employees who enter phased retirement must devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period, to mentoring other employees, ideally for those who take over for them when they fully retire.

Though Congress passed a law four years ago allowing phased retirement, the benefit has been slow to catch on within the federal government. Agencies are in charge of establishing their own programs, and many have not done so. The Defense Department’s...

Pay Raise Action, Higher Ed Discounts, TRICARE Flexibility and More

Lawmakers continue to tussle over federal pay. Last Thursday, the Senate rejected an amendment to the 2017 defense authorization bill that would have given service members a 2.1 percent pay raise. The measure had been pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. As Federal News Radio noted, McCain bluntly told his colleagues: “If you vote no, don’t go home and say you support the military, because you do not.”

Alas, the amendment received only 56 of the 60 votes needed for passage.

Also last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, paving the way for the largest federal pay raise in six years. As Eric Katz noted in a story last month: “Congressional Republicans do not appear to have any appetite to stand in the way of President Obama giving federal employees a 1.6 percent pay raise in 2017.”

While military pay didn’t receive the boost some lawmakers sought, Senators did move to protect commissary benefits for service members and their families. Senate lawmakers, by a vote of 70 to 28, approved an amendment throwing out a pilot plan contained in the 2017 defense authorization act that would have...

TSP Glitch, New Leadership Courses, VA Benefit Changes and More

The Office of Personnel Management is offering two new Web-based leadership courses for agencies to use in their executive development programs: Emotionally Intelligent Leadership and Leading Change.   

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership is designed to help federal leaders “apply the principles of emotional intelligence, defined as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, and for managing emotions effectively in others and ourselves.” Research shows a strong link between emotional intelligence and performance, productivity, and employee engagement, OPM said, noting “The course is highly-interactive, offering self-checks and realistic scenarios to increase and enhance learning.”

Leading Change will allow executives “to practice their leadership skills in a realistic work environment.” According to OPM, “The executive will need to effectively manage a newly-formed team and make strategic decisions about the future that will impact their colleagues, the relationship with their supervisor, and ultimately the outcome of the initiative.” 

The courses are part of OPM’s strategic commitment to help agencies create inclusive work environments where the workforce is fully engaged, and in support of the President’s Management Agenda “People and Culture” pillar, according to the agency.

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More Money for Defense Buyouts, Troop Pay Raise, and More

Defense civilian employees could get a bigger buyout package under a provision in the Senate fiscal 2017 Defense authorization bill.

The bill would nearly double the current amount department employees could receive under a buyout, from $25,000 to $40,000. Buyouts, or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, are cash incentives for eligible employees and can be offered along with an early out, or separately.

The bump would adjust for inflation from when Congress first authorized buyouts for Defense back in 1993. “The maximum payable amount has not been adjusted since VSIP was first authorized,” the Senate Armed Services Committee said in its report on the fiscal 2017 NDAA.

The Pentagon has to cut 25 percent of its headquarters staff over the next few years, and has said it will try to do so mainly through relocating employees and attrition, according to a May 26 story from Eric Katz:

“The Office of the Secretary of Defense will shed more than 300 jobs, though about 20 percent of those are already vacant. The rest of the reductions will come from defense agencies and field activities, according to David Tillotson, the Pentagon’s assistant deputy chief management officer. Civilian positions in individual branches...

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