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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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The Return of Furloughs, Suspending G Fund Investments and More

Military bases continue to feel the effects of President Trump’s hiring freeze. Commissaries are starting to experience longer lines, the Military Times reports, and military exchange service hours have been reduced at some facilities.

Lawmakers are attempting to mitigate the effects of the freeze by advocating more exemptions and ensuring that agencies are taking advantage of existing carve-outs. Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., have asked acting Army Secretary Robert Spicer to take steps to ensure all child care positions at military bases are approved for exemptions promptly. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a measure to exempt from the moratorium any veteran applying for a civilian job. Lynch pushed his bill again in a March 8 letter to Trump signed by 23 House Democrats.

“Congress and the federal government must work together to improve the quality of care and employment opportunities for the men and women who dutifully served our country,” Lynch said in a statement Wednesday.  “A hiring freeze does the opposite by closing the doors of the federal government, our nation’s largest single employer of veterans, to our returning service members.” 

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TSP’s Winning Streak and Other Good News

February continued a solid growth streak for the Thrift Savings Plan, with all of its funds ending the month in the black. Common stocks in the C Fund were the top performers for the month, increasing 3.97 percent. They were up 5.95 percent for 2017.

Here are the details for the other funds:

  • The small and midsize companies represented in the S Fund were the second-highest earners last month, growing 2.45 percent. They were up 4.66 percent for the year to date. International stocks in the I Fund grew 1.44 percent in February and 4.37 percent for 2017.  
  • The more stable but lower growth fixed income bonds in the F Fund gained 0.71 percent last month and 0.94 percent for this year, while the government securities in the G Fund ended February up 0.18 percent. The G Fund has grown 0.38 percent for the year so far.
  • TSP’s lifecycle (L) funds -- which move investors to a less risky portfolio as they near retirement -- had a similarly strong performance in February. L Income, for those who have already started withdrawing money, increased 0.77 percent; L 2020 was up 1...

The Hiring Freeze Takes a Toll on One Benefit, a Petition for a TSP Tweak and More

Federal employees’ biggest fear about President Trump’s hiring freeze may be that it could add to their workload if colleagues leave and aren’t replaced. But as families on at least two military bases are finding out, the moratorium on hiring may also affect the delivery of workplace benefits.

The freeze has forced Fort Knox in Kentucky and U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, to scale back their childcare offerings, Military.com reports. Fort Knox on Feb. 17 announced it will no longer offer its part-time child development center programs (which include part-day preschool) and hourly care, according to the report. The base will also not allow new families to enroll in the child development centers at this time. Similarly, Army Garrison Wiesbaden is suspending part-day programs.

Defense Department guidance on the hiring freeze does include an exemption for employees providing childcare for military families, Military.com said, but Army base commanders must still obtain permission from the service secretary to fill positions. That process can be slow, the article noted.

The hiring freeze was planned as a temporary measure until Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the yet-to-be-named Office of Personnel Management chief came up...

Protecting Federal Employees' Pay, Hope for Paid Parental Leave and More

The White House has again signaled that President Trump intends to overhaul federal employee compensation and move work to the private sector, this time including those reforms as part of a promise to “innovate and update government.” This clearly doesn’t bode well for civil servants’ pay, retirement benefits or job security. “There’s going to be a respect for taxpayers in this administration, so that whether it's salaries or actual positions or programs, [Trump’s] going to have a very, very tough look at how we’re operating government, how many positions they're in, what people are getting paid,” said Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  

But in one silver lining, a group of Democratic senators has made a pledge of its own. The 12 senators – led by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii – introduced a resolution (S. Res. 51) “recognizing the contributions of federal employees” and vowing to fight back against any legislation or Trump administration action that would “erode fair compensation for federal employees” by cutting pay, raising health insurance premiums or “unnecessarily or irresponsibly reducing the overall federal workforce.” The senators also said they would combat attempts to reduce retirement benefits, undermine federal employee unions, eliminate due process...

Dental Premiums Drop, Retirement Claims Spike, Anxiety Over Benefits 'Reform' Grows

Kudos to the dedicated feds at the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center. The center, which processes payroll for more than 650,000 federal employees, was badly damaged in a tornado that hit eastern New Orleans on Tuesday. USDA quickly initiated its Continuity of Operations plan, relocating staff to an alternative work site in Shreveport. Thanks to their quick action, feds will be paid on time.

For TRICARE beneficiaries affected by the tornadoes in Louisiana, emergency refill procedures are in place through March 9. See the notice from TRICARE for details.

A tornado of another sort may be about to hit federal employees. The Trump administration and lawmakers have been discussing major changes to pay and benefits for federal employees, as well as  how to reduce the role of unions and make it easier to fire poor workers. Yesterday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, met with President Trump to discuss some of those issues. It’s worth noting that the meeting took place at Trump’s request.

As Eric Katz reported:

Chaffetz told reporters after his meeting he brought up the support in his committee for moving federal employees off a defined benefit...