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From Law to Policy

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It's been a busy summer on Capitol Hill when it comes to federal retirement benefits, with several bills working their way through the legislative process. But that's just the beginning. Once Congress changes a policy, the executive branch must set the rules in place to implement them. Let's take a look at how that process is currently playing out with respect to different kinds of benefits.

Thrift Savings Plan

After a bill affecting the TSP is signed, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board must evaluate and implement the changes. That involves communicating with the federal agencies that administer employee contributions to the plan through various payroll systems. Payroll changes and record-keeping changes must be made. In addition, forms and educational materials need to be updated and made available to employees.

Let's look at one example: On June 22, President Obama signed H.R. 1256, which included several changes to the TSP:

  • Approval of immediate agency contributions for employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (Previously, new hires had to wait up to one year to be eligible for such contributions.)
  • Adding a Roth 401(k) option
  • Permitting spouses of deceased TSP participants to maintain TSP accounts
  • Allowing participants to direct their TSP funds to private sector mutual funds

In order for all these changes to take place, a lot has to happen. The only modification that is being implemented right away is the immediate agency contributions. The TSP Board has issued a bulletin to agencies providing instructions on implementing the new policy.

Some of the remaining changes could be a year or two away from becoming a reality. They will require complex computer system upgrades, evaluation of the impact on other processes and creation of educational materials to explain the changes to employees.

Other Benefits

Government Executive's Alex M. Parker recently summarized other legislation pending this summer that will have an impact on federal employees if passed. The changes include:

  • Getting sick leave credit toward FERS retirement
  • Modifying the retirement computation for Civil Service Retirement System employees who work part-time during their high-three average salary period
  • Letting FERS employees who return to federal service to repay refunded retirement contributions to re-credit past service
  • Providing locality pay to employees who work outside the continental United States to allow the additional pay to be included in the high-three for retirement computations.
  • Allowing domestic partners of employees to be included in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and to receive federal employee survivor benefits
  • Changing Social Security rules to reduce or eliminate the effects of the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset on CSRS retirees

If and when these proposals become federal law, they'll have to be implemented through the policy and regulatory process. In many cases, rules must be published in the Federal Register to give members of the public the chance to comment on them.

If a proposed change will affect the way federal benefits are administered, the Office of Personnel Management must prepare a benefits administration letter to inform agency personnel offices how to implement the change. Those offices are then responsible for notifying employees of the change through any means they deem appropriate. This can include e-mails, training seminars, posters and mailings. OPM will inform retirees if a change will impact them.

Only after this process takes place will employees be able to benefit from changes to laws that affect the way retirement benefits are administered. So be patient. You can keep up with what is happening to the laws that govern your benefits right here at GovernmentExecutive.com. And if you're nearing retirement, consider attending a pre-retirement seminar to get up-to-the minute information.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on federalnewsradio.com or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area.

 

Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at www.tammyflanagan.com and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement as well as the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on NITPInc.com.

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