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

The Case for Cutting Defense Civilians, Improving Care for Female Vets and More

Thirty-eight defense experts from across the political spectrum sent Congressional leaders and Defense Secretary Ash Carter a letter Wednesday urging reductions in civilian personnel, changes to military health benefits and more base closures.

Citing “growing imbalances with the defense budget that threaten the health and viability of America’s military power,” the authors said without closing excess bases, “rightsizing” the civilian workforce and modernizing pay and benefits, the nation will see an erosion of combat power relative to its adversaries.

Defense civilians consumed $76 billion of the Pentagon’s budget in 2014. While the department has made selective reductions to the civilian workforce, it’s not at all clear that those reductions correlated to the needs of a downsized military and revised national security strategy.

From 2001 to 2014, the active duty military shrank by nearly 3 percent. Yet over the same timeframe, the number of civilian defense employees grew by 10 percent to 756,000. This workforce rose another 3 percent in just the past year. While these professionals support essential missions of the Defense Department, their growth since 2001 has created a workforce that is now out of proportion to need. At the same time, the Department of...

Military Kids and Vaccines; Untangling Parental Leave Policies and More

Children of service members are less likely to be vaccinated against preventable childhood diseases than other children, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The authors found that despite universal medical coverage of vaccines through the Military Health System, 28 percent of military dependents up to age 19 were not up to date on immunizations for things like diphtheria, tetanus, poliovirus, measles, mumps, chickenpox and other childhood diseases covered by the 4:3:1:3:3:1 vaccination series (excluding Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine). That compares with 21 percent of all other children.

According to Federal Times, the Pentagon disputes those findings:

Defense health officials disputed the findings and said they believe military vaccination rates are actually higher than children in the general public, while also acknowledging that they lack concrete documentation to prove that's true. 

The authors of the Pediatrics study acknowledge that the Defense Department’s incomplete data is a problem:

Lower vaccination coverage rates among US military dependent children might be due to this population being highly mobile. However, the lack of a military-wide childhood immunization registry and incomplete documentation of vaccinations could contribute to the lower vaccination coverage rates seen in...

Presidential Contenders on Federal Benefits, Military Members on Proposed Retirement Reforms, and More

This week several 2016 presidential contenders have officially launched their campaigns, and they have vastly different views of the federal workforce and the federal government’s role in solving major challenges facing the country. The bottom line: Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is the most fed-friendly.

Clinton made clear her respect for the civil servants she oversaw as secretary of State in her book, Hard Choices. In fact, she dedicated the book to diplomats and development workers. She has also advocated for insourcing more jobs to federal employees; paid parental leave; and expanding benefits to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. 

Contrast that to Republican hopefuls Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Paul has vowed to “take power away from unelected bureaucrats who are trampling our freedom and rights,” and has proposed eliminating entire Cabinet-level departments: Education, Commerce, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. Agencies that escaped his ax would still be vulnerable to hefty budget decreases, which could in turn erode employee pay and benefits.

Rubio has said government will hold citizens back, rather than empowering them, and has supported efforts to shrink the federal workforce and make it easier to fire senior executives. Rubio has also suggested opening the Thrift...

Compensation for Cyber-Breach Victims, Parking Perks for 'Special' Feds and More

It’s never a good thing to have your private information stolen by miscreants potentially looking to exploit the data.

But for employees of the U.S. Postal Service, a widespread breach in fall 2014 came with a small perk: USPS management agreed to pay for one year of free credit monitoring for its workforce. Postal unions, however, said the gesture was not enough to rectify the situation.

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association -- along with other postal labor groups -- filed charges against the Postal Service, claiming the agency refused to follow collective bargaining procedures in response to the cyber attack. Then Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe sat on the information for weeks after the breach before alerting the union or its members, NRLCA said, and did not consult the group before determining the appropriate response.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a preliminary ruling on Wednesday, finding the Postal Service violated labor laws by offering the free credit reports without consulting the appropriate unions. Because the monitoring related to “the wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment,” it became a “mandatory subject” for collective bargaining.

As a remedy, the NLRB general counsel demanded USPS post notices of its...

Higher Premium Pay, Health and Wellness, and Federal Women

The Office of Personnel Management is reminding agencies of some pay and benefits-related changes in the latest Defense authorization law that affect many federal employees.

Some civilian employees working overseas in certain countries in the Middle East and Africa are eligible to receive higher premium pay through the end of 2015, according to new OPM guidance, because of an extension granted in the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Government employees working abroad in support of a military operation or in response to a national emergency for at least 42 consecutive days in areas covered by U.S. Central Command, as well as those formerly of CENTCOM now under the U.S. Africa Command, can earn up to $235,300 in basic and premium pay in calendar year 2015 under the waiver authority extended in the Defense law. That $235,300 cap is the vice president’s annual salary in 2015.

Because the United States no longer has an official military operation in Iraq, the higher premium pay cap as outlined in the March 26 OPM memorandum does not apply to civilians working there. However, because President Obama extended the national emergency in Iraq through May 22, 2015, civilians working...