House reform committee passes civil service bills

Pre-tax health insurance premium legislation headed to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it stalled last year.

The Government Reform Committee also passed H.R. 1765, known as the GOFEDS Act. It would allow federal workers who take the student loan repayment benefit to receive it tax-free. The legislation also would require the Office of Personnel Management to provide an annual report to Congress on agencies that do not provide the benefit.

The House Government Reform Committee passed three bills Thursday assisting federal employees with student loans, transit payments and retirement health care.

The most contentious of the bills is H.R. 994, also known as premium conversion. That legislation-introduced by the committee's chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev.-allows retired military personnel and federal employees to pay their health insurance premiums with pre-tax dollars. It also gives active duty military personnel a tax deduction when they pay supplemental insurance premiums. The bill moved quickly through the committee last year as well, but it was blocked by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

Federally Employed Women, a civil service advocacy group, applauded the premium conversion legislation. In a press release, FEW noted Thomas' opposition, but expressed hope that the bill's strong support will allow it to move to the full House.

"Considering the bill has 198 co-sponsors and a lot of support, the Ways and Means Committee should hold hearings as soon as possible," said Rhonda Trent, FEW vice president for congressional and government relations. "Members of the House of Representatives should be given the opportunity to vote on this benefit, but they cannot do so until it moves out of the Ways and Means Committee."

Davis said that the premium conversion bill could save retirees almost $500 annually.

"The federal government's most important asset is our people, and we must have better means to recruit, retain and reward them. Although not a permanent answer to rising health-care costs, H.R. 994, the premium conversion bill, will take the next step in helping improve quality of life for those retirees and active duty personnel living on a fixed income," Davis said. "It has been estimated that retirees would save nearly $450 per year under this legislation."

Committee members unanimously passed H.R. 1283, which was introduced by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and mandates that federal agencies give their Washington area employees tax-free transportation benefits. The legislation allows federal agencies to provide transportation for employees to and from mass transit stations. That bill has been sent to the full House.

"As the region's largest employer, the federal government can help alleviate some of the burdens imposed on one of the most congested traffic systems in the country by encouraging federal employees to use mass transit," Davis said.

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