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

Financial Advice in Your Best Interest, Workplace Flexibility and More

The Labor Department on Wednesday finalized a rule designed to ensure that those saving for retirement get investment advice that’s actually in their best interest—not the best interest of the adviser.

The final rule has been years in the making. The department received a great deal of feedback after it proposed a new rule last April, and “many changes were made to clarify, streamline, and simplify the proposed rule and proposed exemptions while still adhering to the North Star of an enforceable best interest standard for people receiving advice about their retirement savings,” Labor said.  

For those who want to see how the new conflict-of-interest final rule, which requires those providing retirement investment advice to abide by a “fiduciary” standard, compares with the proposed rule, the department has provided a chart illustrating the changes.

According to a White House statement: “These rules will save affected middle class families tens of thousands of dollars for their retirement over a lifetime of savings. And they’ll level the playing field for the many good actors, so that retirement advisers will compete based on the quality of advice they give.”

Federal labor groups were in agreement. “Release of this rule is...

Washington Teleworks, Benefits Changes, Defense Hiring Freeze, and More

A two-day global nuclear security summit starts in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, promising commuting headaches, so the government is encouraging federal employees to telework.

The event, which convenes leaders from 50 countries and four international organizations in downtown Washington on March 31 and April 1, will cause traffic congestion and will affect mass transit. “Federal employees who work in downtown D.C. should expect significant commuting delays and travel disruptions,” the Office of Personnel Management told agencies.  

If employees can telework, then agencies should allow workers to do that or use other flexibilities such as alternative work schedules, annual leave, leave without pay or compensatory time off, OPM said.

Click here for more information about the summithere for information about street closures, and here for details on how the summit affects the Metro rail and bus system.

Also on April 1, new reimbursement rates for autism benefits under TRICARE take effect. Defense proposed cuts of up to 15 percent for 2016 reimbursement rates for Applied Behavior Analysis, a popular therapy for children with disorders on the autism spectrum. ABA can help increase an autistic child’s I.Q., language abilities and coping skills. 

“We do not expect these...

Senate Support for Tripling the Pay Raise, a Scholarship Deadline and More

It’s official: There is now Senate-side support for giving federal employees a 5.3 percent pay raise in 2017. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation last week that would give civilians a 3.9 percent boost next year, plus a 1.4 percent bump in locality pay. The figure is more than three times President Obama’s proposed 1.6 percent pay raise for federal workers in 2017.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., made good on his pledge to support that level of raise, by co-sponsoring the bill. Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are also co-sponsors; Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., introduced a companion bill in the House.

It’s unclear what will become of the efforts, since Democratic attempts to provide a more generous raise were unsuccessful last year. Connolly, Schatz and Cardin in 2015 sponsored similar legislation, which would have given federal workers a 3.8 percent raise in 2016. Instead, they received the 1.3 percent increase that Obama supported.

In another possible positive sign for federal employees, the House Ways and Means Committee’s panel on Social Security earlier this week discussed the merits of a measure that would reduce the retirement...

Autism Coverage, Diplomat Pay, Retirement Relief and More

Would you rather have job security or an opportunity to make more money? Apparently most senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department would take security over pay, when considering a department proposal to move some executives from Title 5 to Title 38 as a way to streamline the hiring and firing of senior personnel. That was the takeaway from a survey by the Senior Executives Association, which found deep skepticism that higher compensation would offset greater personal and professional risk.

Respondents also expressed “a deep fear of politicization of their jobs, the SES, the federal civil service, and the distribution of services and benefits to veterans,” SEA found.

Not surprisingly, given the tenor of recent Congressional hearings about VA management, “the survey revealed many career executives feel that neither VA nor Congressional leaders are approaching the challenges within the agency with the nuance and thoughtfulness necessary to find solutions that would help not only the agency and its employees, but the veterans the agency serves.”

In a move aimed at helping at least some veterans, the House Republican budget proposal for 2017 would allow disabled veterans to deposit their disability checks into the Thrift Savings Plan. Currently, when service members...

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