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

Disengaged Employees, Lackluster Pay and More

It looks like 2014 will end with a whimper instead of a bang for federal employees, and that’s good news, considering what the bang might have been. Despite some 11th-hour brinksmanship, lawmakers approved and President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending plan for 2015. That means you can stop worrying about potential furloughs or a government shutdown before next fall, unless you work for Homeland Security, in which case you still have a reprieve until late February.  

The law allows for a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees and military personnel. While that’s probably not going to make anyone break out the champagne, it’s certainly better than the three-year pay freeze feds experienced prior to the 1 percent raise they got in 2014.     

The only folks who won’t see a pay increase are top political appointees and Vice President Biden. Lawmakers also froze their own salaries, so there’s some consolation in the fact that they didn’t reward themselves for an historically unproductive year.

Employee travel and conference spending also took a hit, but the biggest constraints fall on Homeland Security, a casualty of Republican furor over Obama’s executive action ...

Overtime Pay Cuts, Pay Raises, Suicide Prevention and More

Many Border Patrol agents will soon receive smaller paychecks under a new law that will require significant changes to overtime pay. The House on Wednesday passed S.1691, the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, sending to President Obama’s desk a bill that aims to bring stability to the workforce and streamline the way agents are paid when they work extra hours.

The bottom line: Most border agents ultimately will earn less money under the revised system. The law aims to correct a situation that essentially allowed agents to double dip into overtime. Even the union supported it as a reasonable reform for a bloated system.

Government Executive’s Eric Katz explained the bill in September after it passed the Senate:  

The bill would allow Border Patrol agents to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week pay period. Employees who choose the 100-hour option would be paid 1.25 times their normal base pay, but would not receive any extra compensation for their overtime hours. Employees opting to work 90 hours per pay period would earn 1.125 times their normal base pay, while those who work 80 hours would simply earn their normal base ...

Tapping Feds for Deficit Reduction, Autism Benefits, Roth TSP Contributions and More

The Congressional Budget Office has a few ideas for reducing the deficit. Seventy-nine, actually. In its most recent periodic analysis of policy options and their effect on the federal budget, CBO estimates the savings associated with all manner of things, from tweaking the tax code to cutting grants to state and local government. Few things seem to be off the table in this thought exercise, including benefits to federal employees. CBO’s table of options includes these scenarios with associated cost savings:  

  • Narrow eligibility for veterans’ disability compensation by excluding certain disabilities unrelated to military duties ($20 billion)
  • Restrict VA’s individual unemployability benefits to disabled veterans who are younger than full retirement age for Social Security ($16 billion)
  • Cap increases in basic pay for military service members ($24 billion)
  • Replace some military personnel with civilian employees ($20 billion)
  • Reduce the annual across-the-board adjustment for federal civilian employees’ pay ($54 billion)
  • Reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition ($49 billion)
  • Introduce minimum out-of-pocket requirements under TRICARE for Life ($28 billion)
  • Modify TRICARE enrollment fees and cost sharing for working-age military retirees ($19 billion to $73 billion)

While CBO weighs the advantages of cutting benefits, the Veterans Affairs Department ...

Expanding Death Benefits, Cutting Pensions, Extra Holiday Time and More

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 5721, the Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act, to allow the families of overseas federal contractors killed in the line of duty access to full death benefits if the deceased employee is unmarried with no children or other dependents. Problems experienced by the family of former Navy SEAL and CIA security contractor Glen Doherty, who was killed during the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prompted the legislation, Lynch said. Also killed in that attack were U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Tyrone Woods, and U.S. State Department officer Sean Smith.   

Lynch noted that the Defense Base Act of 1941 requires overseas federal contractors to obtain insurance to make certain that injured workers are entitled to workers’ compensation for employment-related injuries and their survivors are entitled to death benefits in the event of a job-related tragedy. But the law doesn’t extend death benefits, aside from $3,000 in funeral expenses, to the family or designated beneficiary of a federal contractor killed in the line of duty overseas if they are unmarried with no dependents.

While Doherty was unmarried with ...

Health Care Choices, Retirement Savings Safeguards, Faster Holiday Travel and More

Open season officially started this week, giving federal workers an opportunity to rethink their health care and flexible spending account benefits.  For some, the choices may seem daunting. But for at least one group of employees, the options are underwhelming.  The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign on Monday noted that only three Federal Employees Health Benefits Program providers – AETNA, Kaiser Permanente and the Foreign Service Benefit Plan -- will offer transition related coverage for transgender feds.

HRC urged the Office of Personnel Management to go beyond its June notification to FEHBP carriers that such coverage was no longer banned. Providers should be required to offer it, the group said.   

“Transgender federal employees deserve full and equal benefits, and these changes in coverage are simply inadequate,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for HRC. “We are deeply disappointed in not only the scope of coverage, but also the number of providers who will be providing transition related care.”

Those federal employees who are lucky enough to have a range of FEHBP plans that do meet their health care needs might want to consider shopping around. As Retirement Planning columnist Tammy Flanagan noted last week, “open season can be an opportunity to put ...