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A Big Appetite for Additional Hack Protections, Extra Paid Sick Leave for Some Feds and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The hack of federal employees’ personal data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management continued to dominate benefits news last week, with lawmakers pushing for increased protections against misuse of the stolen information. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday approved a measure that would give hack victims 10 years of credit monitoring services and $5 million in liability protection.

A top House Democrat went even further, calling for lifetime protection for victims of the breach. It’s not even clear if that would be enough, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “There may be some things we cannot compensate for,” he said.

The federal workforce certainly seems to have an appetite for protective services. CSID, the company OPM selected to provide credit and identity theft protection to the 4.2 million current and former federal employees affected by the initial breach of personnel files, has seen about 22 percent of hack victims enroll into its services. That is compared to a typical response rate of 3 percent to 5 percent of victims in large-scale private sector breaches.

The enthusiastic response could set the bar higher for whichever contractor OPM selects to provide the “suite of services” that has been promised to the 21.5 million people affected by the breach involving security clearance files.

It’s unclear what will happen with the additional benefits lawmakers would like to offer breach victims. The Senate language offering victims 10 years of credit monitoring was attached to the fiscal 2016 financial services and general government spending bill, which also advances the 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees by staying silent on the subject.

The individual fiscal 2016 spending bills don’t have very bright futures, however. The House has passed a number of them, but President Obama has threatened to veto any that do not reverse the cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Lawmakers have relatively few legislative days to resolve the standoff before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, so a stopgap funding measure is increasingly likely, and a shutdown is also a possibility that concerns some.

Congress has been busy passing less controversial legislation.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a bipartisan bill (S. 242) that would give disabled veterans extra paid sick leave during their first year of federal employment to attend medical appointments related to their disability. New federal hires currently start without any sick leave and accrue four hours per pay period. For many disabled veterans, this does not provide enough time off to keep up with appointments, forcing them to take unpaid leave or forego treatment.

The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act -- introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. -- advances 104 hours of paid sick leave to veterans who have a service-related disability rated at 30 percent or more during their first 12 months on the job. The leave must be used for appointments related to treatment of the veteran’s disability, and any amount not used within the first year is forfeited.

“Veterans who choose to continue their public service shouldn’t be forced to take unpaid leave to get the treatment they need,” Tester said in a statement applauding the Senate’s unanimous passage of S. 242.  “This bill helps ensure veterans don’t lose pay because they need to see a doctor.”

The bill now heads to the House, where Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., has introduced a companion bill (H.R. 313).  

In other good news for disabled veterans, the House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill (H.R. 675) that would increase cost-of-living adjustments for Veterans Affairs Department benefits to keep up with inflation. The new rates would take effect on Dec. 1. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee reported out a companion bill (S. 1493) last week.

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