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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Pay Raise Progress, Protections Against Layoffs, a Delay in SafeTrack Relief and More

The past week brought some good news on next year’s civilian pay raise. The House passed its version of the fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which – by virtue of staying silent on the issue – would allow President Obama’s proposed 1.6 percent 2017 raise to move forward.

Unfortunately for some Senior Executive Service employees, however, the House version of the bill also included a ban on SES bonuses at the agencies covered, including the Internal Revenue Service, General Services Administration, and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, U.S. Postal Service employees and retirees are in line for several major changes to their benefits. The American Postal Workers Union and USPS late last week reached an agreement with the help of an arbitrator that will grant covered career employees a 3.8 percent pay raise over the 40 months of the contract. The agreement also includes protections against layoffs, and places a moratorium on plant closures until April 2017.

In other postal news, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a major bipartisan reform bill that – among other provisions – would require postal retirees electing to receive federal health insurance to enroll...

Expanded Education Benefits, Executive Bonus Boost and More

Effective immediately, federal employees are eligible for tuition reductions for graduate and professional studies programs at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. The agreement between Saint Mary’s and the Office of Personnel Management applies to both online and on-campus programs.

According to an announcement from OPM, the benefit is part of the agency’s broader effort to close the skills gaps in the federal workforce and increase employees’ access to high-quality, affordable educational resources.

The agreement, which applies to spouses and dependents as well, provides a grant in an amount equal to 10 percent of what the school charges for tuition plus a waiver of the standard application fee “for all online and/or on-campus School of Graduate and Professional degree programs, certificate programs, and any individual courses.”

Saint Mary’s is an international, private university, recognized by U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review and Forbes as one of the top universities in the United States.  For more information about Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota programs and admissions, visit www.fedgovatsaintmarys.com or contact OPM’s Learning and Development Team via email at learninganddevelopment@opm.gov or Saint Mary’s Manager of Corporate Education, Angela Opie...

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...

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