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

Leave Transfer for Wildfires, TSP Portfolios Grow, and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday that it has established an emergency leave transfer program for federal employees that are victims of the recent wildfires in northern California.

Similar to recently approved programs for feds impacted by hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico and Florida, OPM’s latest measure allows federal employees to donate unused annual leave to colleagues living in areas affected by the wildfires that ravaged California wine country last month and who need additional time off without using their own paid leave.

Employees who intend to make use of the leave transfer program must live or work within one of the regions for which formal disaster declarations have been made in relation to the wildfires. They must apply to their agencies in writing, but an employee who is unable to do so may apply through a personal representative.

Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan said in a statement that the program is an important tool to help federal employees affected by disasters to get back on their feet.

“More than 10,000 federal employees are working in areas affected by the wildfires in California,” McGettigan said. “As the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to assess the impact of...

TSP to Trade Speed for Security, IRS Announces Max Contribution Increase, and More

Officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings plan announced Monday that the Thrift Savings Plan participants soon may see some services and requests take longer to process as the agency explores new security measures.

The new initiative comes in the wake of news in September that Equifax allowed the personal information of 143 million people, including Social Security numbers, to be compromised. Tee Ramos, director of the office of participant services at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, said the agency is working on new ways to authenticate participants when they make requests regarding their accounts.

“We’re making changes continually to ensure the security of our processes, and we’ll continue to do that through IT and my shop,” Ramos said. “In some cases, we’re going to have to sacrifice speed and convenience for security . . . Some of the changes we’re going to make over the next several months are possibly going to slow down some of our processes.”

Ramos clarified that upcoming changes likely would not affect customer service through the TSP’s ThriftLine call center, but that participants seeking withdrawals or other financial services will see a slower...

Lawmakers Urge Reversal of Defense Per Diem Cuts, Senate Debates Budget Resolution and More

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging congressional leaders to reverse a 2014 policy reducing the per diem rates for service members and civilian Defense employees who are on extended government travel.

Implemented by the Pentagon in 2014 in an effort to cut costs, the rule has long been a sore spot for Defense personnel and members of Congress. The policy reduced long-term temporary duty travel reimbursement rates by 25 percent for travel between 31 and 180 days, and by 45 percent for trips longer than 180 days. The rates include lodging, meals and incidentals, and vary by locality.

Led by Reps. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., 13 lawmakers sent a letter the leadership of the Senate and House Armed Forces committees asking that they insert language into the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to reverse the rule.

The lawmakers cited a May Government Accountability Office report that said the Defense Department “may not be well positioned to understand whether the flat rate per diem policy is cost-beneficial and meeting its objectives . . . without negatively affecting the traveler and the mission.”

The House version of the fiscal 2018 NDAA blocks the 2014 rule, and it requires...

A Small Dent in the Retirement Backlog, Tips for Feds to Prevent Opioid Abuse, and More

After months of struggling to cope with the number of federal employees filing retirement requests, the Office of Personnel Management made modest progress in reducing the backlog in September.

OPM reported last week that it had received 8,810 new retirement claims for the month, and it processed 9,107 requests. That marks the first month since June that the agency has processed more claims than it took in.

Overall, the backlog of requests dropped from 17,125 at the end of August to 16,828 last month. But the percentage of claims processed within 60 days dropped on a monthly basis from 70 percent in August to 65 percent last month.

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In August, OPM officials confirmed that President Trump’s hiring freeze at the beginning of 2017 hampered their ability to process retirement claims on a timely basis. But they said the agency’s retirement services office “mitigated the impact of staff shortages” with a number of process improvements.

Although the retirement backlog is often a sore topic for congressional watchdogs, OPM said retiring feds do not see the impact of a long waiting...

More Help for Feds Affected by Hurricanes and More Flexibility for Those Who Want to Volunteer

The Office of Personnel Management has continued its work to help federal employees affected by the string of severe storms to hit the United States and to offer avenues for workers to contribute to the various recovery efforts.

Officials announced last week that they have granted a grace period for charities located in areas impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to allow them additional time to complete the requirements to participate in this year’s Combined Federal Campaign.

OPM said it is already in direct contact with the affected charities and will provide further guidance moving forward. The CFC officially launched Monday, but because of the storms, OPM said it will not launch the web portal for donations until later this month.

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“By giving charities a little more time, we helped maximize their opportunity to participate in the CFC to the fullest extent possible after this unprecedented series of catastrophic hurricanes,” said OPM acting Director Kathy McGettigan, in a statement. “They can continue to focus on what’s most important right now—caring for themselves and their communities—and still have the chance to...