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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Can You Accept That Gift? Take Our Quiz

It is widely agreed the federal workforce enjoys a relatively generous benefits package.

It is one of the few sectors that still offers a defined-benefit retirement option, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program is considered a model of efficiency in employer-sponsored health care.

There is one perk, however, federal employees cannot enjoy: gifts for doing their jobs.

Federal employees have long been prohibited from taking bribes. Such “corrupt” payments, as they are known in federal statute, also include illegal gratuities and generally any quid pro quo agreement. Governmentwide laws that regulate the simple awarding of gifts to executive branch workers, however, are much more recent.

A 1965 executive order signed by President Lyndon Johnson was the first official guidance to lay out the dos and don’ts for federal employees offered gifts. Those regulations were codified, with minor changes, by the 1989 Ethics Reform Act.

The laws are fairly strict, comprehensive and at times, oddly specific. Having a hard time keeping it all straight? Luckily for you, the Congressional Research Service recently put together a report summarizing the restrictions, and we have put together a quiz to test your knowledge.

You can find a link to the answers after ...

Some New Feds Could Soon Get Bonus Sick Leave

Disabled veterans entering federal civilian service should not have to wait to receive sick leave, according to a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The 2014 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act -- introduced by Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas -- would give former military members injured during combat access to their full year’s sick leave immediately upon starting their federal jobs. Currently, vets -- along with all new feds -- enter the civil service with no sick leave, and accumulate it over each pay period.

This bill would instead enable disabled veterans to take up front all 104 hours of sick leave they would eventually compile over a full year. The lawmakers said veterans starting a new federal job do not have sufficient leave to attend the medical appointments necessary to treat disabilities connected to their service.

“The lack of initial sick leave for new federal workers places a significant burden on our disabled veterans during their first year of federal employment,” Lynch said. “Our wounded warrior federal employees who are just starting out in the federal workforce are often faced with the difficult choice of having to take unpaid leave to attend their ...

TRICARE Increases Mental Health Care Providers

TRICARE beneficiaries soon will have another option for mental health providers, the Defense Department announced.

As of Aug. 18, enrollees in the military’s health care system can choose between independent TRICARE-certified mental health counselors (TCMHC) or supervised mental health counselors (SMHC) under a final rule the department published in the Federal Register on July 17. The TRICARE-certified counselors are independent providers who can treat beneficiaries without a physician’s oversight as long as they have a master’s degree from a mental health counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling exam by Jan. 1, 2017. SMHCs provide care under the referral and supervision of TRICARE doctors.

The fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act required Defense to develop criteria and guidance to allow licensed mental health counselors to provide and be paid for independent care to TRICARE beneficiaries to improve the quality of mental health care and standardize it. Before the change, enrollees only had access to SMHCs. The 2011 interim rule proposed phasing out supervised mental health counselors, but the final rule allows their services to continue indefinitely, giving them more time to obtain ...

OPM Announces More Flexibility for Dental and Vision Coverage

Federal employees who get married on the job, or return to work after a period of leave without pay, soon will be able to enroll for dental and vision coverage outside of Open Season.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday announced the final rule making it easier for feds with certain “qualifying life events” to change their dental and vision benefits close to when the event occurs, rather than waiting for the annual open season window in November. The purpose of the “expanded enrollment opportunities” is to “better align” the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program with enrollees’ overall health care plan when their life circumstances change, the rule stated.

The new rule takes effect Aug. 15.

OPM defines qualifying life events for federal employees as getting married; having their pension or compensation restored after it was terminated; returning to pay status after being on leave without pay because of deployment to active military duty; or returning to federal employment after being on leave without pay, if the employee did not have federal dental or vision coverage before going on LWOP, or the coverage was terminated or canceled during the leave without pay.

The time frames within which ...

The Benefits Federal Employees Love Most

This just in: Federal employees really like their retirement and health benefits.

OK, so maybe that is not exactly breaking news. But a recently released survey shows federal workers value nearly all of their benefits. Their satisfaction has dropped off, however.

The Office of Personnel Management first conducted the Federal Employee Benefits Survey in 2004, and has followed up sporadically ever since. The 2013 results show a few offerings have become increasingly unpopular with the federal workforce, while others have become so popular their use is nearly ubiquitous.

Generally speaking, federal employees are really happy with the Thrift Savings Plan. About 94 percent of federal workers -- who, since 2010, have been automatically enrolled in the 401(k)-type program but can opt out -- were TSP participants, the highest participation rate of any benefit program.  The next highest enrollment was in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which maintained an 82 percent participation rate. The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program fell on the other side of the spectrum, with just 6.7 percent of respondents saying they participate.

OPM asked respondents to comment on the importance of each program, and the scores were up in every category since 2004 except ...