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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Tuition Assistance Hike, TRICARE Changes, Military Pay and More

Military personnel can expect higher pay and changes to their health benefits next year, although the details are still being worked out. Earlier this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel cleared the National Defense Authorization Act with a 1.6 percent pay raise for troops.

That was half a percent lower than the pay raise included in the House version of the legislation.

As Kellie Lunney reported Tuesday:

The Senate panel’s 1.6 percent figure is the same amount that President Obama has recommended for the military and federal civilian employees in his fiscal 2017 budget. But, like last year, House lawmakers have decided to fully fund the 2017 raise for service members, which according to the formula, would be 2.1 percent in 2017. The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages.

The two chambers will likely have to agree on a final number during conference committee. If this year is like last year, the Senate’s smaller pay increase will prevail.

The other big compensation news in the Senate version relates to military health care benefits...

Military Pay Raise, Federal Hiring, VA Firing and More

Military personnel would receive a 2.1 percent pay raise next year under a major House bill that lawmakers have advanced.

The House Armed Services Committee approved last Thursday the massive fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the salary boost. The 2.1 percent bump is 0.5 percentage points higher than the 1.6 percent raise President Obama recommended for the military and civilians in his fiscal 2017 budget.

The 2.1 percent figure is in line with the anticipated 2017 cost-of-living adjustment. (The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages.) The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, is likely to stick with the administration’s proposal, which is what has happened in the recent past.

A 1.6 percent pay raise could save the Defense Department more than $300 million in fiscal 2017, officials have said.

The fiscal 2017 Defense authorization bill also would create a new TRICARE enrollment fee for active-duty service members who join the military after Jan. 1, 2018 (active-duty personnel currently don’t pay TRICARE enrollment fees). However, the House committee rejected an administration proposal...

Problems Voting Overseas, Financial Management Help, Fair Pay Dustup and More

The 2016 presidential election is drawing attention to the highly decentralized nature of the U.S. election system, where every state seems to operate according to a unique set of rules and deadlines. For military personnel and federal employees serving overseas, figuring out how to vote absentee makes the process even more daunting.

There’s help available for navigating the voting process from overseas. But as the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a report last week, the help itself is confusing to many. To its credit, the Defense Department has taken steps to improve voter assistance efforts through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. But as GAO notes:

“Two long-standing issues—limited awareness of resources for voters and the unpredictable postal delivery of absentee ballots—continue to pose challenges. DOD-commissioned studies and post-election survey results indicate that there is limited awareness of FVAP's resources among military and overseas voters. A 2015 study found, for example, that the online availability of blank ballots led to one of the most significant improvements in military and overseas absentee voting. At the same time, the full benefits of the improvement had not been realized because voters remained unaware that ballots could be requested...

Contractor Sick Leave, Congress’ Self-Imposed Pay Freeze, Military Pay and More

It’s been about six months since President Obama signed an executive order guaranteeing federal contractors paid sick leave, and the haggling over how that rule will be implemented has started. The Labor Department’s proposed regulation on Executive Order 13706 is “broad in its application, overly prescriptive in its implementation, and overly punitive in its enforcement,” said the Professional Services Council, an industry group, in a statement late last week.

When the executive order came out in September 2015, PSC contended that while it supports paid sick leave for federal contractors, many already provide that benefit and they require flexibility to administer that and other types of leave as they see fit. The group advanced a similar argument against the draft regulations last week, noting the new rules would impose extra compliance costs on contractors.   

“First the EO, and now the proposed rule, have turned a straightforward mandate to provide certain employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked on covered contracts into a detailed and intrusive compliance and enforcement regime,” stated PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin. “The proposed rule dictates the minutiae of compliance without regard for variations in covered contractors...

Another Bonus Ban, Feds’ ‘Golden Parachute’ Pensions and More

Congress is always looking for new ways to ban bonuses for federal employees, it seems.

Weeks after House appropriators unveiled a measure to prohibit performance awards for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, a lawmaker put forward legislation to ban bonuses for Internal Revenue Service workers.

Blocking the extra pay could prove to be just a threat, however; the bill -- introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., would only outlaw the awards until the IRS issues a “comprehensive customer service strategy.” 

Until such a plan is reviewed and approved by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency “may not pay a bonus, award or similar cash payment,” according to the proposal. 

No word on whether the employees writing that plan will be entitled to an especially generous paycheck. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill Wednesday as part of a package of legislation to hold the IRS more "accountable" for its performance. 

In other parts of the government, employees themselves are sounding the alarm about colleagues receiving too large a payout. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers sent a letter to Congress about executives at the Tennessee Valley Authority receiving average pensions of nearly...

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