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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Retirement Claims Backlog Could Be Eliminated by Year’s End

The Office of Personnel Management continued to chip away at the retirement claims backlog last month, decreasing it by 12 percent between April and May, and processing more applications than expected.

The backlog at the end of May was 14,551 claims -- the lowest it has been since December 2013, when there were 12,637 applications in the queue. The agency typically receives an influx of new retirement claims at the beginning of the year on top of the current backlog. OPM also received 1,631 more new claims in May than it expected, and processed a total of 10,498 applications last month, 1,498 more claims than its projected goal.  

Since January, the agency has processed a total of 50,803 retirement claims.

It is possible OPM will come close to eliminating the decades-old backlog by the end of the year; it’s only June and the backlog is already down around where it was in October and November of last year. OPM originally attempted to eliminate the backlog by the summer of 2013, but sequestration forced the agency to scale back its ambitions.

In March, a bipartisan group of senators blasted OPM for wasting taxpayer dollars by ...

A VA Fix That Goes Beyond Banning Bonuses

Lawmakers, advocates and bystanders alike have proclaimed myriad reasons to explain the Veterans Affairs Department’s delays in health care and ensuing cover up scandal.

Poor management, lazy bureaucrats and a general complacency toward veterans have been popular pabulums voiced by the outraged-at-large.

Another prevailing explanation is even simpler: money.

VA critics have said performance awards, or bonuses, were granted to those who kept wait lists down. This implicitly encouraged agency employees to alter wait time data, or keep them secret altogether.

“As the reports [into the VA scandal] make painfully obvious, the environment in today’s Veterans Health Administration is one in which some VA health officials are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk,” wrote Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in an op-ed earlier this week.

The VA itself supported this notion, finding in its “phase one” audit that a measurable, outcome-driven performance management system created an incentive for deceptions.

“When tied to rewards” internal agency auditors wrote, “measurement of system performance runs the risk of engendering ...

A Special Sick Leave Bank for Disabled Vets?

Veterans and the management of the Veterans Affairs Department have been front and center these last few weeks because of the controversy over reports of secret waiting lists for medical appointments, and the recent deaths of vets who were waiting for care. The spotlight on the quality of veterans’ care might be new, but problems with access to that care are not.

Of the many ideas and bills circulating in Washington now related to veterans, at least one seems relatively straightforward and potentially bipartisan. The Federal Managers Association is pushing Congress and the Obama administration to come up with a legislative or executive fix to help new federal employees who also are disabled veterans attend their mandatory medical appointments without dipping into their sick leave, or having to take leave without pay to get care.

Full-time federal workers in their first year on the job have a zero sick leave balance when they start, accruing four hours of such leave per pay period. That amounts to a balance of 104 hours at the end of their first year. But disabled vets, who must attend regular medical appointments to take care of their health, but also to continue receiving their veterans ...

Delinquent on Your Tax Bills? You Could Soon Get Fired

A Senate committee on Wednesday approved a measure to prohibit “seriously delinquent” taxpayers from federal employment.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and cosponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee without objection. The legislation mirrors a House bill that was voted down last year when it failed to draw the two-thirds majority it required for passage.

The measure would apply to executive and legislative branch employees as well as U.S. Postal Service workers who are delinquent on their taxes and have not entered into an agreement with the government to repay the debt. The legislation would also prohibit the government from hiring job applicants with seriously delinquent tax debt.

The measure defines seriously delinquent tax debt as outstanding debt to the federal government for which a public lien has been filed. Under current law Internal Revenue Service employees can be fired for failing to pay their taxes.

According to an IRS report, 107,658 federal civilian employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid federal income taxes in 2011 -- a delinquency rate of 3.6 percent of the total civilian workforce. That’s less than half the tax delinquency rate ...

Three New Bills That Could Change Feds' Benefits

House lawmakers have been busy lately.

Elections are coming up and representatives are looking for avenues to promote popular ideas they can then flout on the campaign trail. Here are some recent bills lower chamber members have pitched that affect federal employee benefits, both those in the executive and legislative branches.

No Mile-High Luxury

Members of Congress do a lot of traveling.

That doesn’t entitle them to warm towels, fancy meals and tons of legroom, a group of lawmakers has said.

A bipartisan coalition of House members has introduced a bill to prohibit the use of first-class flying by lawmakers and legislative branch staffers when on official travel.

“Members of Congress are public servants and should not receive special privileges at the expense of hard working taxpayers,” said Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a cosponsor of the bill. “This bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill will close a loophole that currently allows members of Congress to buy first-class airfare using taxpayer funds.”

Exceptions would apply when coach class is not available, first class is necessary to accommodate a disability and “exceptional” security circumstances arise. Other lawmakers would be forced to the back of the plane with the rest of us. 

Looking Out for ...