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

OPM Treads Water on Retirement Backlog, Harvey Response Continues, and More

The Office of Personnel Management effectively made no progress in its handling of the backlog of federal retirement claims in August, although the number of new claims declined.

According to statistics released Tuesday, the backlog of retirement claims at the end of August was 17,125, slightly higher than the 17,091 reported at the end of July. But the number of claims OPM received dropped from 10,070 in July to 7,136 last month.

The percentage of claims processed within 60 days since last October improved slightly, from 55 percent in July to 57 percent last month. The total number of claims processed last month was 7,102, a modest decrease from the 7,509 completed in July.

Last month, OPM officials confirmed that President Trump’s temporary hiring freeze, implemented in January and lifted in May, had an impact on the agency’s ability to keep up with demand. The new data was released just days after Trump nominated Jeff T. H. Pon, a longtime human resources professional, to be director of the agency.

Meanwhile, federal agencies are continuing to help with disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the approach of Hurricane...

How Feds Can Contribute to the Harvey Recovery Effort

As officials at all levels of government continue to respond to the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on east Texas and Louisiana, public employee groups are contributing their own resources to the effort and providing outlets for feds not directly engaged in the response to help as well.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said around 7,400 of its member live or work within the area affected by the storm. In an email, AFSME President Lee Saunders said that many of those union members are serving their community without regard for the safety of themselves or their homes, whether they helped to evacuate prison inmates or aided in the rescue of residents from flooded homes.

Saunders encouraged people to make donations to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund, which he said will be used to help provide both immediate relief in the form of food, water and temporary housing, as well as long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts.

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The National Treasury Employees Union announced Monday that it is pledging up to $30,000 in matching funds to complement donations to the Federal Employees Education...

Blended Retirement Gets a Mascot, the Benefit of Bigger Bonuses for Cost Cutters, and More

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said a bill to increase financial incentives for reporting of wasteful government spending would likely not cost a significant amount, but it also might not be particularly effective.

The 2017 Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act (H.R. 378), introduced by Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., would increase the maximum bonus available to employees who report wasteful spending from $10,000 to $20,000. It was voted favorably out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month.

By law, only agency inspectors general can dole out these awards, and agency heads, IG office employees and those who earn the highest pay grade on the Executive Schedule are all ineligible for the program.

CBO said the proposal likely would not make a big dent in the budget, given how much already is done on an ongoing basis to identify and eliminate government waste.

“In 2016 the government spent $2.7 billion for the activities of 73 IGs and their 13,000 employees to detect and deter fraud, waste and mismanagement of government funds,” analysts wrote. “Because of the large scale of these ongoing activities, CBO estimates that there would be no significant cost...

Jobs for Military Spouses, Agency Layoffs, and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that it would develop regulations to remove the two-year time limit for spouses of military personnel who are relocated on permanent duty to have preferred status when applying for civilian federal government jobs.

The rule stating that spouses could only be considered for a “noncompetitive appointment” within the first two years after a service member is relocated was repealed as part of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization act, signed by President Obama in December 2016.

OPM said in an Aug. 8 memo that while it still is working on an update to its regulations, all agencies should consider the provision that allows for such hires to be available to spouses indefinitely.

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“Under the amended statute, a relocating spouse of a member of the armed forces remains eligible for noncompetitive appointment under this section for the duration of the spouse’s relocation to the permanent duty station of the member,” wrote acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan. “Section 1131 of the NDAA was effective upon the president’s signature, and agencies should apply the new provision when appointing certain...

OPM Announces Special Rate Review, Open Season Dates and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday that it would conduct its annual review of special rates for certain jobs on the General Schedule pay scale.

The agency authorizes higher rates of pay for specific jobs, grades and locations in order to aid the government’s ability to recruit and retain employees. Each year, OPM reviews these positions to see if rates should be adjusted based on recent staffing issues.

OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan asked in a memo that agencies send any requests for changes to or the elimination of existing special rates by Oct. 13. She stressed that agencies do not need to request that existing special pay rates remain the same—bearing in mind that OPM anticipates a 1.9 percent across the board pay raise for civilian employees as laid out in President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

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Requests for new special rate classifications are handled through a separate process. Any changes to existing special pay rates would take effect in January 2018.

McGettigan noted that Trump has until Aug. 31 to exercise his authority to formally propose a pay...