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Benefit Blackout, Veterans' Preference, a Bonus Ban and More

Feds will want to watch upcoming appropriations debate.

Some lawmakers are fighting to protect veterans' preference in federal hiring, pushing back against a measure that would limit the advantage to a one-time use.

The Senate included a provision to rein in veterans’ preference in the 2017 Defense authorization bill, to block the advantage after a veteran's first application for a federal job. Now, several House Democrats are looking to ensure that does not happen.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would prevent any funds from being spent to “revise any policy or directive” relating to veterans hiring preference. The spending bill is expected to receive consideration on the floor next month after the Fourth of July recess.

Another amendment to that bill would prevent senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service from receiving bonuses. Republicans have long sought to restrict or eliminate IRS bonuses, though their efforts have failed to prevent the agency from doling out $6 million in performance awards to top managers in the Office of Chief Counsel alone between 2010 and 2015.

“At a time of soaring deficits, and with a federal debt in excess of $19 trillion, allowing lavish bonuses to continue to go to senior management within the IRS is especially wasteful,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said of his efforts back in March. “Most hard-working, law-abiding Americans haven’t received bonuses during these tough economic times. Neither should corrupt government bureaucrats that illegally targeted conservative organizations.”

The White House has previously denounced an IRS bonus ban as unnecessary.

The general government appropriations bill is often the vehicle federal employees monitor to track the status of their pay raise. The 2017 measure contains language to allow President Obama’s 1.6 percent salary bump to take place next year, though federal employee advocates have recently renewed a fight for a pay increase more than three times that size.

Federal employees enrolled in the government’s health savings account program will soon see a blackout blocking them from accessing their accounts or submitting claims.

The blackout is necessary due to the Office of Personnel Management choosing a new contractor to run the benefit. Last year, OPM’s inspector general found the agency had violated contracting law by using ADP Benefits Services KY Inc. to provide the flexible spending accounts (FSAFEDS) for 12 years without any re-competitions.

OPM will transition from ADP to WageWorks in August, causing a blackout for the entire month. Any eligible claims must be submitted before July 29 (or postmarked by July 20 if they are being mailed in) or on Sept. 1 or later. The online account access will only be restricted from Aug. 26 until Sept. 1.

FSAFEDS administrators said the blackout is necessary “due to the scope of the transition, the nature of the data being transferred and the security requirements needed to protect participants' information.” They added they chose August because it is typically the least busy time of the year for claims, and attempted to reassure enrollees their accounts would not be otherwise affected after August. Paycheck deductions will still occur during the blackout period.

OPM is also letting feds and other victims of the hack of background investigations data know how to create a self-imposed blackout of information on sex offenders moving into their neighborhoods. The notifications were included as part of a suite of services designed to protect breach victims’ credit and identity, but have spammed enrollees’ inboxes.

In a recent update to the Frequently Asked Questions section of OPM’s website providing information on the hacks, the agency told enrollees they must call the service provider at 800-750-3004 and ask to no longer receive the notices. Think carefully before making your decision, however; once you opt to cease the sex offender alerts, it cannot be undone.