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

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...

Retirement Backlog Numbers, Telework Data, Special Pay Rates, and More

The Office of Personnel Management received an influx of retirement applications in July, pushing the backlog up to its highest level since March, according to the latest data.

The backlog was at 15,562 claims by the end of July, up 2,033 from June. OPM received 9,238 claims last month – 3,309 more than in June. The agency processed 770 more claims, however, in July than in June. OPM processed 74 percent of cases in 60 days or less last month, down slightly from 75 percent in June. The average number of days it took OPM to process cases that took longer than two months stood at 110 days in July, down from 115 in June.

The retirement claims backlog typically spikes in January and February and then gradually falls throughout the year. Clearing up the retirement claims backlog has been an ongoing struggle for OPM and a constant source of frustration for federal retirees.

While OPM keeps pretty good track of its retirement backlog data, federal agencies in general aren’t doing a great job assessing the cost and benefit of telework apparently, according to the Government Accountability Office. A new GAO report said OPM should issue...

Anger Over Skyrocketing Long-Term Care Premiums, the $333B Plan to Cut Feds’ Pay and Benefits, and More

Advocates for federal employees and retirees have joined lawmakers in demanding answers on skyrocketing premiums in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association on Monday announced that it has sent letters to three congressional committees seeking hearings on the premium increase, which will average 83 percent, or $111 more per month, for enrollees who don’t change their level of coverage.

“I am stunned at the extent of the increase and angry that this type of financial pressure is being placed on federal employees and retirees,” said NARFE National President Richard Thissen, in a statement. “This situation should not have occurred and signals the need for change in the structure of FLTCIP to prevent federal employees and retirees from ever facing such huge, unexpected increases again.”

NARFE asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senate Special Committee on Aging to look into why premiums jumped so much, and what can be done to mitigate the increases and prevent similar problems in the future.

Some lawmakers have also demanded answers on the increase. Virginia Democratic Reps. Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly wrote a letter July...

Purchase Card Oversight, Health Benefit Adjustment and More

Politicians use the sentence structure so often, the aphorism has become cliché: 99 percent of federal employees are good and hardworking, but

In the most recent example, the “but” refers to federal workers who abuse their government purchase cards. House lawmakers recently introduced companion legislation to a bill that already cleared the Senate in December and would crack down on those who misuse the perk for non-government acquisitions.

“The vast majority of federal workers are honest, hardworking public servants trying to safeguard taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who introduced the House bill. “But recent misconduct by unscrupulous employees underscores the need for us to improve oversight to better rein in waste, fraud and abuse on taxpayer-funded credit cards.”

The Saving Federal Dollars Through Better Use of Government Purchase and Travel Cards Act would require agencies to boost the use of data analytics and strategic sourcing to limit improper purchases by federal workers with their government cards. The bill would also force agencies to work together to share information on questionable transactions and create an “interagency charge card data management group” to develop best practices on limiting them.

The House will not have the opportunity to consider the...

Wage Scale Change, Vets’ Preference Expansion, No-Interest Loans and More

The Office of Personnel Management wants to redefine the geographic boundaries for the New York and Philadelphia wage areas. The move would put the entire Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, located in central New Jersey, in the New York metropolitan area. Currently, portions of the military installation formerly known as Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base are included in the Philadelphia wage area. The portion of the joint base formerly known as Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst is defined to the New York wage area. The change would put the entire installation into a single wage area.

“This change is based on a majority recommendation of the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee, the national labor-management committee responsible for advising OPM on the administration of the [federal wage schedule],” OPM said. It planned to publish the proposed rule with the new definitions in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

How effective are your agency’s health and wellness programs? OPM is offering a free online assessment, WellCheck, to help agencies assess whether the workforce is actually benefitting.

According to OPM: 

WC measures 131 evidence-based workplace strategies that impact health and wellness. In 2014, 291 worksites, from 36 different Federal agencies, participated in the...

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