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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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How the Postal Service Could Overhaul Its Retirement and Leave Benefits

The U.S. Postal Service spent $6 billion on retirement benefits in fiscal 2013, and the agency thought that was too much.

USPS asked its inspector general’s office to evaluate its retirement packages against the benefits offered at other organizations. Current law mandates the Postal Service offer employees enrollment in the Federal Employees Retirement System, unless they were grandfathered into the Civil Service Retirement System.

In the resulting white paper report, the IG found many of the entities the auditors studied -- both public and private -- have adapted their retirement programs to reflect rising costs and budgetary realities. The Postal Service, of course, has not changed its offerings since FERS was created in 1987.

Federal statute requires USPS employees to receive “compensation comparable to the private sector,” the auditors noted. Federal employees earn 39 percent of their total compensation through benefits, however, compared to 30 percent for private-sector workers. The Postal Service spent 12.3 percent of its $47 billion compensation budget on retirement expenses in fiscal 2013, while private-sector companies averaged just 3.7 percent.

“Unlike private sector companies,” the IG also pointed out, “the Postal Service does not have the authority to change retirement benefits for its employees ...

House Republicans Aren’t Budging on Military Compensation

Military families have delivered a clear message to the Defense Department and Congress: Don’t cut our subsidized housing, groceries or other fringe benefits.

House Republicans have listened.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., previewed his 2015 National Defense Authorization Act -- scheduled for full release Monday -- with his marks on subcommittee bills. The Military Personnel Subcommittee’s bill would “hedg[e] against the chance the defense cuts erode the sacred trust between our warfighters and the American people.”

Specifically, the language rejects changes to TRICARE that would increase costs to participants, massive cuts to commissaries and reduced basic housing allowances. Committee Republicans said the proposals, put forth by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget, “would have increased out-pocket-costs for military families.”

Hagel’s plan would slash $1 billion in 2015 from the Defense Commissary Agency’s $1.4 billion annual budget. In a recent survey, military families overwhelmingly said such cuts would negatively impact them. The proposal came after military leaders and President Obama said unfettered growth in compensation costs would damage readiness in the years to come.

Reviews, Studies, Commissions

The personnel subcommittee’s proposal would require a survey of “random members of ...

Can Feds Use the Student Loan Repayment Benefit For Their Kids?

I’ve been writing recently about the federal student loan repayment benefit since House Republicans again targeted it for elimination this month. The benefit, which helps eligible federal employees pay off federally insured student loans, has been around for more than a decade. But it’s not a widespread perk because it’s not implemented in the same way across government. Some agencies don’t offer it at all because they don’t need to (they don’t have problems recruiting or retaining highly-skilled employees for hard-to-fill jobs), or they simply lack the funds to do so. Others agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, actively encourage employees to apply for the benefit and hold an annual “Open Season” for it.  

One interesting question that has cropped up among Government Executive readers so far: Can federal employees use the benefit to help repay their children’s outstanding student loans? Yes, as it turns out -- a fact that may surprise some of you. But you can’t use the benefit if you’re an employee and your parents need help repaying their student loans.

Here’s what the Office of Personnel Management has to say about it:

Q: May a parent ...

More Than 15,000 Federal Employees Make at Least $200K

Most of the discussion of pay for federal employees in recent months and years has been about insufficient or non-existent raises, pay gaps and budget shortfalls.

Not all feds are making out so poorly, however.

A new database compiled by FedSmith.com, using data from the Office of Personnel Management and other agencies, shows more than 15,000 federal employees earned at least $200,000 in 2013. That’s roughly 1 percent of all federal workers on the list; some employees in national security positions were not included in the database.

The vast majority of the top 1 percent of feds were doctors at the Veterans Affairs Department. The highest earning employee was a Veterans Health Administration doctor in Pittsburgh, who took in just more than $400,000 last year. More than 1,200 employees made more than $300,000.

Other agencies that require a highly specialized workforce paid several employees at least $200,000, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Financial Housing Finance Agency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

All of these employees are paid on systems specific to their agency ...

Obese Feds Can Now Have Their Diet Pills Covered

The best means to achieving weight loss is through diet and exercise.

So says the Office of Personnel Management and, well, everyone.

OPM has acknowledged there are other means to shed the pounds, however, including through the use of “drug therapy.” Several anti-obesity medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and OPM said in 2015 providers on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program cannot exclude coverage of them on the basis of lifestyle or cosmetics.

“We want to clarify that excluding weight loss drugs from FEHB coverage on the basis that obesity is a ‘lifestyle’ condition and not a medical one or that obesity treatment is ‘cosmetic’-- is not permissible,” OPM wrote in a March letter to carriers.

The human resources agency implored providers to take care to ensure their enrollees are using the drugs appropriately, as weight loss pills “may be subject to abuse and misuse.” Consumption of weight loss drugs should always accompany the “mainstays” of diet and physical activity, OPM said.

OPM noted the Veterans Affairs Department’s VA MOVE! program as a model. That program requires employees to participate in a diet and behavior modification plan before qualifying for pills.

More Convenient Weight Loss ...