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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Delinquent on Your Tax Bills? You Could Soon Get Fired

A Senate committee on Wednesday approved a measure to prohibit “seriously delinquent” taxpayers from federal employment.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and cosponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee without objection. The legislation mirrors a House bill that was voted down last year when it failed to draw the two-thirds majority it required for passage.

The measure would apply to executive and legislative branch employees as well as U.S. Postal Service workers who are delinquent on their taxes and have not entered into an agreement with the government to repay the debt. The legislation would also prohibit the government from hiring job applicants with seriously delinquent tax debt.

The measure defines seriously delinquent tax debt as outstanding debt to the federal government for which a public lien has been filed. Under current law Internal Revenue Service employees can be fired for failing to pay their taxes.

According to an IRS report, 107,658 federal civilian employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid federal income taxes in 2011 -- a delinquency rate of 3.6 percent of the total civilian workforce. That’s less than half the tax delinquency rate ...

Three New Bills That Could Change Feds' Benefits

House lawmakers have been busy lately.

Elections are coming up and representatives are looking for avenues to promote popular ideas they can then flout on the campaign trail. Here are some recent bills lower chamber members have pitched that affect federal employee benefits, both those in the executive and legislative branches.

No Mile-High Luxury

Members of Congress do a lot of traveling.

That doesn’t entitle them to warm towels, fancy meals and tons of legroom, a group of lawmakers has said.

A bipartisan coalition of House members has introduced a bill to prohibit the use of first-class flying by lawmakers and legislative branch staffers when on official travel.

“Members of Congress are public servants and should not receive special privileges at the expense of hard working taxpayers,” said Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a cosponsor of the bill. “This bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill will close a loophole that currently allows members of Congress to buy first-class airfare using taxpayer funds.”

Exceptions would apply when coach class is not available, first class is necessary to accommodate a disability and “exceptional” security circumstances arise. Other lawmakers would be forced to the back of the plane with the rest of us. 

Looking Out for ...

How the Postal Service Could Overhaul Its Retirement and Leave Benefits

The U.S. Postal Service spent $6 billion on retirement benefits in fiscal 2013, and the agency thought that was too much.

USPS asked its inspector general’s office to evaluate its retirement packages against the benefits offered at other organizations. Current law mandates the Postal Service offer employees enrollment in the Federal Employees Retirement System, unless they were grandfathered into the Civil Service Retirement System.

In the resulting white paper report, the IG found many of the entities the auditors studied -- both public and private -- have adapted their retirement programs to reflect rising costs and budgetary realities. The Postal Service, of course, has not changed its offerings since FERS was created in 1987.

Federal statute requires USPS employees to receive “compensation comparable to the private sector,” the auditors noted. Federal employees earn 39 percent of their total compensation through benefits, however, compared to 30 percent for private-sector workers. The Postal Service spent 12.3 percent of its $47 billion compensation budget on retirement expenses in fiscal 2013, while private-sector companies averaged just 3.7 percent.

“Unlike private sector companies,” the IG also pointed out, “the Postal Service does not have the authority to change retirement benefits for its employees ...

House Republicans Aren’t Budging on Military Compensation

Military families have delivered a clear message to the Defense Department and Congress: Don’t cut our subsidized housing, groceries or other fringe benefits.

House Republicans have listened.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., previewed his 2015 National Defense Authorization Act -- scheduled for full release Monday -- with his marks on subcommittee bills. The Military Personnel Subcommittee’s bill would “hedg[e] against the chance the defense cuts erode the sacred trust between our warfighters and the American people.”

Specifically, the language rejects changes to TRICARE that would increase costs to participants, massive cuts to commissaries and reduced basic housing allowances. Committee Republicans said the proposals, put forth by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget, “would have increased out-pocket-costs for military families.”

Hagel’s plan would slash $1 billion in 2015 from the Defense Commissary Agency’s $1.4 billion annual budget. In a recent survey, military families overwhelmingly said such cuts would negatively impact them. The proposal came after military leaders and President Obama said unfettered growth in compensation costs would damage readiness in the years to come.

Reviews, Studies, Commissions

The personnel subcommittee’s proposal would require a survey of “random members of ...

Can Feds Use the Student Loan Repayment Benefit For Their Kids?

I’ve been writing recently about the federal student loan repayment benefit since House Republicans again targeted it for elimination this month. The benefit, which helps eligible federal employees pay off federally insured student loans, has been around for more than a decade. But it’s not a widespread perk because it’s not implemented in the same way across government. Some agencies don’t offer it at all because they don’t need to (they don’t have problems recruiting or retaining highly-skilled employees for hard-to-fill jobs), or they simply lack the funds to do so. Others agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, actively encourage employees to apply for the benefit and hold an annual “Open Season” for it.  

One interesting question that has cropped up among Government Executive readers so far: Can federal employees use the benefit to help repay their children’s outstanding student loans? Yes, as it turns out -- a fact that may surprise some of you. But you can’t use the benefit if you’re an employee and your parents need help repaying their student loans.

Here’s what the Office of Personnel Management has to say about it:

Q: May a parent ...