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

Who Wants a $10,000 Bonus?

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lately have been targeting federal employees' bonuses. But a new bipartisan bill actually wants to give feds more money as a reward for cutting costs.

The 2015 Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act, sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mark Warner, D-Va., would allow an agency inspector general to pay an award of up to $10,000 to a federal employee who identifies waste.

“This bipartisan proposal encourages federal agencies to return unused funds instead of rushing to spend-down their appropriations at the end of every fiscal year,” Warner said. “When we empower federal employees to identify surplus funds instead of encouraging the ‘use it or lose it’ mentality, we are better stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Paul said federal workers “have a perverse incentive to spend all of their agency’s annual budget before the end of the year, and subsequently, bonuses will reverse the incentive to the benefit of the employee and the taxpayer.” Three other Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill: Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

From bonuses to overtime pay, President Obama on Tuesday signed into law a bill clarifying that border patrol agents...

Doubling of Paid Maternity Leave, Overtime Pay Fix, Hiring Preference for Gold Star Fathers and More

Navy moms and moms-to-be may get a belated Mother’s Day present: a doubling of their current paid maternity leave, and extended daycare hours. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Wednesday announced that the service will propose legislation to increase paid maternity leave from six to 12 weeks next year. The Navy also plans to boost staff at child care facilities on three major bases, allowing facilities to offer two additional hours of care in the mornings and evenings. The changes are part of a sweeping proposal to reform the service’s dated personnel system.

The proposals are for the Navy, but the Associated Press noted that if Congress enacts the additional paid leave, it could ultimately be extended to members of all military branches.

Meanwhile, senators are working on extending benefits to fathers of fallen and disabled soldiers. The Senate earlier this week passed legislation (S. 136) that would grant these fathers the same federal hiring preferences as Gold Star mothers. Currently mothers of soldiers killed or permanently disabled while on duty receive a 10-point hiring preference for federal jobs.

“When a service member is killed in action or permanently and totally disabled, the government should do its part to...

House Passes Bill Exempting Some Feds From Retirement Tax Penalty

The House on Tuesday passed bipartisan legislation 407-5 that would allow federal law enforcement officers and firefighters to access money in their Thrift Savings Plan accounts without penalty when they are eligible to retire.

H.R. 2146 would reform the tax code so that federal law enforcement officers and firefighters, who are eligible to retire earlier than many other federal employees, aren’t subject to the 10 percent tax penalty on TSP retirement funds and other 401(k)-type plans tapped before the age of 59 and a half. Civilians who access their retirement investments, such as a 401(k), prior to turning 55 if they are retired, or 59.5 if they are still working, incur the IRS fine.

Federal law enforcement employees and firefighters are eligible to retire after 20 years of service at age 50; that group also is subject to mandatory retirement at age 57 because of the physical demands and hazardous nature of their jobs. Border protection and customs officers would also be exempt from the tax penalty under the bill.

State and local public safety officers have been exempt from the 10 percent tax penalty since 2006; H.R. 2146 would extend that exemption...

Lawmakers Target Government’s Bad Apples, Obama Praises Its Good Eggs, and More

Lawmakers (and the media) have been overly fond of the phrase “bad apples” when describing the culprits behind serious problems that continue to surface at the Veterans Affairs Department.

There have been several bills introduced in this Congress aimed at rooting out those bad apples and enforcing accountability at the department. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has introduced legislation (S. 1117) that would give the VA secretary more authority to punish and fire department doctors for poor performance or misconduct. This latest VA bill aimed at getting rid of undesirable employees builds on the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which makes it easier to fire misbehaving senior executives at the department.

“I’m introducing a bill to expand the ability of the VA to discipline or, if necessary, fire health care professionals who cannot do their jobs properly,” Johnson said in a statement emphasizing the need to “root out” bad apples. “The vast majority of the men and women caring for veterans in our VA facilities are dedicated to providing the best level of care. It is a mark of respect for their professionalism that we enable VA management to weed out those who cannot match that standard.” Rep...

The Case for Cutting Defense Civilians, Improving Care for Female Vets and More

Thirty-eight defense experts from across the political spectrum sent Congressional leaders and Defense Secretary Ash Carter a letter Wednesday urging reductions in civilian personnel, changes to military health benefits and more base closures.

Citing “growing imbalances with the defense budget that threaten the health and viability of America’s military power,” the authors said without closing excess bases, “rightsizing” the civilian workforce and modernizing pay and benefits, the nation will see an erosion of combat power relative to its adversaries.

Defense civilians consumed $76 billion of the Pentagon’s budget in 2014. While the department has made selective reductions to the civilian workforce, it’s not at all clear that those reductions correlated to the needs of a downsized military and revised national security strategy.

From 2001 to 2014, the active duty military shrank by nearly 3 percent. Yet over the same timeframe, the number of civilian defense employees grew by 10 percent to 756,000. This workforce rose another 3 percent in just the past year. While these professionals support essential missions of the Defense Department, their growth since 2001 has created a workforce that is now out of proportion to need. At the same time, the Department of...