Open Season Workshop, TRICARE Blunder, Telework and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Oops. The Air Force mistakenly told about 1,000 airmen who voluntarily left the service recently that they’d get six months of extended TRICARE health benefits. Turns out that’s not the case.

The problem occurred when officials failed to correctly update the database of eligible TRICARE enrollees, the Air Force Times reported. Some airmen have apparently been using the health benefits for some time, and are now worried they’ll be billed for benefits they thought were covered.

The Air Force issued a statement Oct. 16 saying it would work directly with the affected airmen to address the problem, but some airman told the newspaper that hasn’t happened yet. The only information one former service member has is “just what has been floating around the Internet,” the Air Force Times reported.

Speaking of health benefits, it’s open season time and at least one lawmaker wants to help you out. On Saturday, Nov. 15, Rep. Gerry Connolly is hosting a workshop to help Washington area feds and retirees “navigate through the many changes in the 2015 Federal Employees Health Benefits plans, dental and vision insurance programs, and flexible spending accounts.”

Says the Virginia Democrat: “Many FEHB plans have benefit and rate changes for 2015 so it is important that federal employees and retirees know the details on how their current plans are changing and whether or not there is another option that better suits their needs.”

The workshop will feature a panel discussion with experts and representatives from various insurers will be on hand to talk details.

In case you missed it, the Internal Revenue Service has increased the cap on annual individual contributions to employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, including the Thrift Savings Plan, to $18,000 for 2015, Government Executive’s Kellie Lunney reported. It’s the first increase since 2013, when the cap rose to $17,500 from $17,000. The limit applies to the combined total of contributions to traditional and Roth accounts. For military service members, the cap includes all traditional and Roth contributions from taxable basic payincentive payspecial pay and bonus pay, but does not apply to traditional contributions made from tax-exempt pay earned in a combat zone.

If you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you need to rethink your retirement strategy. Employees failing to reap the full benefit of their retirement investment accounts is the “biggest problem we have with society today,” according to the chairman of the largest asset management firm on the planet.

BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink says federal workers should contribute 5 percent of their paychecks to their plans to receive the largest possible contribution from their agencies, Government Executive’s Eric Katz noted

The Flogging Will Continue

The results of the Office of Personnel Management's 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are in, and, well, happy days aren't here again, which isn’t exactly a surprise after the 2013 government shutdown, sequestration and continuing frustration over budget cuts.

The No. 1 most negatively-rated statement on the survey? “Pay raises depend on how well employees do their jobs.” As Government Executive’s Ross Gianfortune reported earlier this week: “The idea that feds are overpaid does not resonate with actual federal employees, with only 56 percent of feds saying they are satisfied with their pay, a figure down from 66 percent in 2010.”

Among the reasons more feds don’t move to the private sector may be the flexibility many federal jobs can offer. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents said they were satisfied with alternative work schedules and 77 percent said they were satisfied with telework options.

The apparent shift in work schedules is having an impact far beyond employee satisfaction, however. Officials with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are worried that declining federal employment and increased telework have contributed to a fall in ridership, which is hurting the agency’s bottom line and even the local real estate market.

“The agency’s staff raised a bathtub full of possible concerns for the drop-off in a recent report to the board, among them cuts to federal jobs, slow economic growth, a possible rise in teleworking, increased alternative work schedules, more bike commuters and the increased fares and track work that have driven some longtime Metro riders up the wall and maybe back into their cars,” the Washington Post reported.

(Image via Gajus/