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

Uncertainty Over a Shutdown, Forcing Hill Staffers Onto VA Health Care and More

As mid-September approaches, time is running out for lawmakers to reach a deal that would keep government open past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Things looked promising earlier this week, with reports that progress had been made in the Senate toward a short-term continuing resolution that would bridge any gap in appropriations. But the outlook by mid-day Wednesday was a little less certain: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters that “lots of problems” remained with a Republican stopgap spending proposal, according to The Hill.  For one, Republicans do not want any of the money allotted to fight the Zika virus in Puerto Rico to go toward Planned Parenthood clinics.

It still seems likely that a spending deal will be reached to avoid a shutdown and the ensuing disruption to pay and benefits, but federal employees will have to hold their breath a bit longer to see exactly what shape that deal will take.

As spending negotiations are under way, lawmakers are also considering reforms to the Veterans Affairs Department. The House is taking up a bill that would seek to hold all employees at VA more accountable for their job performance. The VA Accountability First...

Military Pay Raise Battle, TSP News, Help for Flood Victims and More

Lawmakers haven’t given up the fight to give troops a full 2.1 percent pay raise, despite President Obama’s plan to give both civilian and military personnel a 1.6 percent pay raise. On Tuesday, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nevada, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would continue to push for the larger raise, noting that this marks the fourth year in a row the president has proposed a smaller military pay raise than that mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. Under FEPCA, unless the president issues an alternative plan, the raise is determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent, which would come out to a 2.1 percent raise in 2017.  

“The global security environment is not getting any safer and deployments aren't getting any easier, yet our military families are constantly asked to do more with less. This is unacceptable. I remain committed to ensuring our troops and their families receive the full pay raise they have earned,” Heck said in a statement.

While Congress has the final word on any pay raise, it is unlikely lawmakers will come up with anything different...

An End to Pay Raise Suspense, Life and Health Insurance Open Seasons, and More

For loyal followers of the annual federal employee pay raise, Wednesday started out as a suspenseful day. President Obama said when he released his fiscal 2017 budget plan that he wants to give civilians a 1.6 percent boost next year, but he had until midnight on Aug. 31 to formally announce his proposal. As of noon that day, there was no word from the White House. But then by mid-afternoon, Obama had released his formal request for a 1 percent base increase for civilians and a 0.6 percent locality bump. He issued a separate plan providing a 1.6 percent boost in monthly basic pay rates for military service members.

Some civilian feds might have hoped he would miss his deadline. If he hadn’t informed Congress of his alternative pay plan on time, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act would have kicked in. Under FEPCA, the raise would have been determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent. In 2017, that rate would have been 2.1 percent.

Congress also still has an opportunity to change the pay raise. Lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation...

Anger Mounts Over Long Term Care Premium Spike

There’s growing concern on Capitol Hill surrounding the recently-announced premium hike for the 274,000 current and former employees who are covered by the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program. Policy holders, on average, will soon see an 83 percent spike in their payments to maintain their current coverage levels. Some will see rate increases as high as 126 percent.

Key lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are asking the company that provides coverage through the FLTCIP (there was only one bidder for the contract) to turn over documents and analysis related to the premium increase, as well as unredacted contracting documents the company has with the Office of Personnel Management, which negotiated the contract.  

In the Aug. 23 letter to Craig Bromley, president of John Hancock Financial Services, the lawmakers requested the documents by Sept. 2. The requesters are Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; Mark Meadows, R-N.C.; and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., the chairmen and ranking members of the full committee and its Government Operations panel, respectively.

Also yesterday, Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, released a letter to Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert saying they...

New Travel Regs and Shopping Benefits, Retirement Hitches and More

There’s been a lot of talk about phased retirement since Congress approved the practice in 2012, but not much action. The idea was to help agencies manage the loss of critical skills in the face of a retirement wave by allowing eligible federal employees to remain on the job part-time for a period before taking full retirement. But as Kellie Lunney reported in January, the program has been slow to get off the ground. Only 31 people across government had applied for the benefit then, and now a new report by Federal News Radio finds that seven months later, fewer than 100 employees have signed up for the opportunity.

According to FNR, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency top the list of agencies where employees are seeking phased retirement, with 19 and 16 employees, respectively.

Agencies have broad discretion in how they implement the program. The problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest on the part of employees. As Lunney noted earlier this year:

The reality is that lots of interested federal employees have not been able to take advantage of the program since OPM implemented itsfinal rules in August 2014 and began accepting applications...

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