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

VA Needs Better Relocation Incentive Tracking, Flu Season Approaches and More

A government watchdog said the Veteran Affairs Department should do more to track the effectiveness of a program that helps relocating employees sell their homes.

A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday said VA has taken steps to tighten its internal controls over its use of the General Services Administration’s Appraised Value Offer program in response to a 2015 report from the agency’s inspector general. But the agency does not adequately track the program’s usage in order to better inform future decision-making on its deployment.

AVO is a program that federal agencies can use to recruit and relocate employees for mission critical positions where a GSA contractor will help find a purchaser for the employee’s home—or purchase it outright.

In 2014, Diana Rubens, senior executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Philadelphia office, was accused of abusing her authority to secure a transfer from Washington, D.C., to her current position, along with nearly $310,000 in relocation costs, including more than $200,000 through AVO.

Rubens was demoted while she under investigation, but that decision was overturned by a judge in 2016.

Last year, VA made a number of improvements to its administration...

Secret Service Overtime Bill Moves Forward, Vets in Government Make Less, and More

A House panel voted Wednesday to advance a bill that raises the cap on total pay U.S. Secret Service employees can earn in 2017.

In August, Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today that more than 1,000 agents had already hit the cap on the amount of overtime pay they can receive in a year. Alles initially blamed the funding crisis on the size of Trump’s family and his frequent travel, but later walked back his comments, instead saying it resulted from a number of long-running issues like staffing levels.

The 2017 Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 3731), introduced Monday by Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., would raise the pay cap for Secret Service employees from $160,000 per year to $187,000 for 2017 and 2018. It also would direct the Secret Service to submit a report on the agency’s recruitment and retention efforts, including data on attrition, morale issues and strategies to address these issues.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill without amendment and by voice vote.

“The men and women of the Secret Service deserve to be paid for the...

OPM Treads Water on Retirement Backlog, Harvey Response Continues, and More

The Office of Personnel Management effectively made no progress in its handling of the backlog of federal retirement claims in August, although the number of new claims declined.

According to statistics released Tuesday, the backlog of retirement claims at the end of August was 17,125, slightly higher than the 17,091 reported at the end of July. But the number of claims OPM received dropped from 10,070 in July to 7,136 last month.

The percentage of claims processed within 60 days since last October improved slightly, from 55 percent in July to 57 percent last month. The total number of claims processed last month was 7,102, a modest decrease from the 7,509 completed in July.

Last month, OPM officials confirmed that President Trump’s temporary hiring freeze, implemented in January and lifted in May, had an impact on the agency’s ability to keep up with demand. The new data was released just days after Trump nominated Jeff T. H. Pon, a longtime human resources professional, to be director of the agency.

Meanwhile, federal agencies are continuing to help with disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the approach of Hurricane...

How Feds Can Contribute to the Harvey Recovery Effort

As officials at all levels of government continue to respond to the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on east Texas and Louisiana, public employee groups are contributing their own resources to the effort and providing outlets for feds not directly engaged in the response to help as well.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said around 7,400 of its member live or work within the area affected by the storm. In an email, AFSME President Lee Saunders said that many of those union members are serving their community without regard for the safety of themselves or their homes, whether they helped to evacuate prison inmates or aided in the rescue of residents from flooded homes.

Saunders encouraged people to make donations to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund, which he said will be used to help provide both immediate relief in the form of food, water and temporary housing, as well as long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts.

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The National Treasury Employees Union announced Monday that it is pledging up to $30,000 in matching funds to complement donations to the Federal Employees Education...

Blended Retirement Gets a Mascot, the Benefit of Bigger Bonuses for Cost Cutters, and More

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said a bill to increase financial incentives for reporting of wasteful government spending would likely not cost a significant amount, but it also might not be particularly effective.

The 2017 Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act (H.R. 378), introduced by Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., would increase the maximum bonus available to employees who report wasteful spending from $10,000 to $20,000. It was voted favorably out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month.

By law, only agency inspectors general can dole out these awards, and agency heads, IG office employees and those who earn the highest pay grade on the Executive Schedule are all ineligible for the program.

CBO said the proposal likely would not make a big dent in the budget, given how much already is done on an ongoing basis to identify and eliminate government waste.

“In 2016 the government spent $2.7 billion for the activities of 73 IGs and their 13,000 employees to detect and deter fraud, waste and mismanagement of government funds,” analysts wrote. “Because of the large scale of these ongoing activities, CBO estimates that there would be no significant cost...