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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Feds Still Fighting for Additional Shutdown Pay

Now that Congress has passed a two-year budget deal, and appropriated money to federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year, the memories of closed national parks and back pay arguments that resulted from last year’s government shutdown seem like a distant memory.

Well, not for everyone.

More than 1,000 employees forced to work during the shutdown on just the promise of a paycheck when government reopened have joined a lawsuit against their employer: Uncle Sam.

Five Bureau of Prisons employees originally filed the suit in November, alleging the government violated the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act when it delayed their pay. About 1.3 million employees were “exempted” from the shutdown and required to work.

The plaintiffs in Martin et. al. v. The United States are seeking compensation of $7.25 multiplied by the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, the period in which paychecks were delayed. These damages will help cover the bills and expenses federal workers incurred during the shutdown, according to Mehri and Skalet, the law firm representing the employees.

Military Benefits

Members of the armed forces were largely exempt from the government shutdown; they will probably not be ...

DHS Ends Extra Overtime for Many Employees

Sorry, “desk jockeys”: No more undeserved overtime for you.

The Homeland Security Department is scrapping a controversial overtime program for certain employees, caving to pressure from congressional leaders who drew attention recently to its reported abuse.

DHS will now ban employees who work in headquarters offices and do not qualify for the overtime, full-time instructors and others receiving extra pay inappropriately from taking “administratively uncontrollable overtime.”

AUO is a designed to provide bonus payments to law enforcement personnel, such as Border Patrol agents, who are forced to work more than eight-hour shifts because they are chasing down a criminal or stationed hours from their base office, for example. A 2013 report from the Office of Special Counsel found BP employees at six offices who abused the program to the tune of $9 million annually.

The announcement came ahead of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing to examine the abuse, and after a similar November hearing in the House.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill in November to overhaul the pay system at Customs and Border Protection, which would change  Border Patrol agents’ work schedule from eight-hour to  10-hour shifts. Under the ...

Navy Seeks to Increase Pay for Sailors at Sea

The U.S. Navy is having a hard time filling at-sea positions, and it has a simple solution to the problem: Pay enlisted sailors more money.

When sailors are deployed on a ship, the Navy pays them a stipend called career sea pay. The Navy soon will increase that stipend for the first time in 10 years, Vice Adm. Bill Moran announced Tuesday.

“It's long overdue,” Moran told sailors aboard the USS Bataan. “We are convinced it's the right thing to do for sailors who are serving at sea. We want to compensate you more for the work that you do.”

At-sea sailors – practically speaking, on-ship sailors, as a ship does not have to be deployed for the stipend to kick in -- receive between $70 and $770 per month, depending on rank and number of years on sea duty. The Navy has struggled to fill at-sea billets, which require more time away from home and offer less stability than shore-duty positions.

The Navy has brought on 8,000 additional sailors in the last two years, Moran said, which has helped reduce the number of open positions significantly. About 7,000 billets remain unfilled. The Navy still is determining ...

Military Pension Fight Rages On

Some military retirees scored a small victory this week.

The omnibus spending bill introduced this week to set the funding levels for all federal agencies would repeal cuts to military pensions for some working-age retirees. While the “fix” would keep in place the less generous cost-of-living adjustments for most military retirees younger than 62 years old, it would restore full COLAs for disability retirements and survivor benefits.

The fight for a full repeal, however, goes on.

Following the budget deal announcement, lawmakers on both sides expressed outrage over the proposal, despite the fact that they overwhelmingly voted for its passage. Dozens of lawmakers backed various proposals to undo the cuts, many of whom have said their work is not yet complete.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., one of the most vocal opponents of the pension cuts, has vowed to continue to work on behalf of those not covered in the omnibus fix.

“Although she believes that delivering relief to disabled military retirees and military survivors is a positive development,” Liz Johnson, an Ayotte spokeswoman, told Government Executive, “she continues to push for a full repeal of military retiree benefit cuts.”

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., was more aggressive  in voicing his ...

2014 Brings More Changes to Federal Pay and Benefits

The new year has ushered in several developments related to federal employees’ pay and benefits -- some more positive than others.

Headlining that list, of course, is the end of a three-year pay freeze for most federal workers, who received a 1 percent pay bump on Jan. 1. However, there also have been some less high-profile changes.

Debt Collection

Historically, federal agencies have had 10 years to collect money their employees owed to the government, not including outstanding tax debts.

The Office of Personnel Management in 2011 proposed to eliminate that decade-long statute of limitations, and this week the agency issued the final rule implementing the change. OPM said the rule puts federal agencies in compliance with the 2008 farm bill, which included a provision to do away with such time constraints.

The situation could arise when an agency accidentally overpays an employee. At least one unidentified labor organization used the public comment period to object to the rule, saying it would make agencies “accountable for clearing up mistakes in a timely fashion.” OPM said it did not have the authority to address such a concern.

In a related move this week, OPM proposed a new rule that would allow agencies ...