Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
ARCHIVES

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 ...

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 ...