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

Some Defense Travelers Will Have Their Per Diem Rates Cut

The Defense Department is reducing per diem allowances for employees on extended travel to save money, but several lawmakers and at least one union aren’t happy about it.

The department has proposed that beginning Nov. 1, employees on government travel to one location for more than 30 days receive a flat per diem rate. For each full day during long-term TDY of 31 to 180 days, the rate would be 75 percent of the locality rate (lodging plus meals and incidentals); for travel lasting more than 180 days, it would fall to 55 percent of the locality rate for each full day.

Another change, which requires incidental travel expenses to now include laundry, baggage tips and ATM fees rather than being treated as separate, reimbursable items, took effect on Oct. 1. That new policy also requires certain expenses, including cell phone use, to be treated as “mission-related” rather than “travel-related” and paid for outside the travel system. The incidental expense per diem is $5.

Congress and the Obama administration have told agencies they need to cut travel costs, so it perhaps should not be a surprise that Defense came up with this proposal. Still, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol ...

Self-Mandated Pay Raise for Federal Judges Will Cost $1B

Federal employees are used to Congress limiting their pay raises.

For three consecutive years, lawmakers decided feds deserved no increase at all; Congress has since agreed to provide some of the lowest pay raises in recent history.

For some federal employees, however, federal judges have ruled Congress has no authority to block pay raises. Which employees are those? Why, federal judges, of course!

In multiple recent court decisions, judges ruled that congressionally mandated salary freezes in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2007 and 2010 were illegal. Specifically, Beer v. United States and Barker v. United States determined lawmakers could not block pay bumps for judgeships established under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which includes district, appeals and international trade courts, as well as the Supreme Court.

In response to an inquiry from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Congressional Budget Office said 1,330 Article III judges are entitled to salary increases, 300 to annuity adjustments and 1,600 to restitution as a result of the court decisions. Because the pay of many non-Article III judges is tied to the salaries of those impacted by the decisions, more than 3,000 additional salary increases ...

How to Avoid Costly Mistakes Filling Out Your TSP Forms

The board that administers the Thrift Savings Plan has some simple but important advice for successfully submitting forms to make changes to TSP accounts.

In a new YouTube video, the TSP board offers five tips to help federal employees complete TSP requests, including those for withdrawals, and to do so correctly, “the first time.” That would indicate that a lot of people haven’t been conducting transactions correctly.

So what does TSP suggest?

  • Use Online Wizards: Enrollees can log into their accounts at, click “Online Transactions” and select the appropriate form for their transaction. A “wizard” will walk users through the process of correctly filling out forms and electronically submit them. Users also can print out the forms at the end of the transaction and mail or fax them to the TSP.
  • Be Mindful of Boxes: TSP enrollees should make sure they check the right box for the desired transaction, and then fill out the corresponding section. For example, if you want to transfer a withdrawal, then check that box and then fill out the applicable section on transfers.
  • Check Your Status: If you leave government service, you can keep your money in the TSP. But if ...

Agencies Are Paying More to Avoid Costly Discrimination Adjudication

Federal agencies doled out more money to settle discrimination complaints in fiscal 2012 than in the previous year, according to an analysis of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports.

Agencies paid out $29 million in settlement-related monetary awards in fiscal 2012, up 18.8 percent from $24.4 million in fiscal 2011. That total includes $3.4 million in “pre-complaint” or informal complaint settlement money – at an average payout of $4,652 – and a total of $25.6 million in lump sum payments to settle cases in the formal complaint stage.

While the average payout for settling cases before they reach the formal complaint process has decreased since fiscal 2008, the total amount is up slightly from $3 million in fiscal 2011, according to the analysis from Tully Rinckey, a federal sector labor and employment law firm in Washington. The fiscal 2012 lump sum payment to settle discrimination cases in the formal complaint stage is up from $21.4 million in fiscal 2011. The EEOC defines a lump sum payment as “a single payment made in a settlement which does not identify the portion of the amount paid for back pay, compensatory damages, attorney fees, etc.”

The total amount of money ...

Two Pay and Benefits Bills for Disabled Vets to Watch

Congress has been working on some important legislation recently that will benefit the country’s service-disabled veterans.

The 2014 Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act (S. 2258) now heads to President Obama for his signature, after the House passed the bill on Tuesday. The legislation increases the COLA for vets’ disability benefits starting Dec. 1, 2014. The rate of the increase will be the same as the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients. The annual COLA legislation, which the Senate approved last week, also affects the disability payments and compensation for vets’ surviving spouses and children.

And on Wednesday afternoon, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved bipartisan legislation that would give disabled vets hired as federal employees access to their full year’s sick leave immediately upon starting their jobs.

Full-time federal workers in their first year on the job have no sick leave when they start, and accrue 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, and also to continue receiving their veterans’ benefits, quickly burn up their ...