Hiring Freeze Fallout, Tax Relief, Education Benefits and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the federal hiring freeze President Trump imposed through an executive order he signed on Tuesday. The order exempts military personnel and leaves open exceptions for “limited circumstances” and positions agencies deem “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” But because most agencies still await new leadership, it’s unclear how these exceptions may apply.

The questions are myriad: Will employees hired prior to Jan. 23 but not yet on board be able to assume their positions? Will agencies be able to fill jobs essential to their mission, but not typically considered “public safety” positions, such as those for some health care providers? The answers are unclear and highly circumstantial.  

The order requires the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management (neither of which has political leadership at this point) within 90 days to come up with a plan to reduce the size of the federal government through attrition, after which time the hiring moratorium will expire. For those in limbo, three months of uncertainty will likely feel like a very long time. GovExec staff writers are covering developments, so stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime:    

Two House Republicans introduced a bill this week that could ease the tax burden on military families by allowing service members and their spouses to jointly establish a consistent state of residency. Right now, spouses must establish residency at each new location, whereas service members may maintain one state of legal residency for tax purposes.

“Spouses may be granted the same benefit, but only if both service member and spouse have the same tax residence at the time of their marriage,” according to a statement issued by Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sponsors of the Military Residency Choice Act. Under the bill, military spouses would be able to establish the same state of residency as the service member for tax and voting purposes.

"It's a simple fix, but it will go a long way in making life easier for those who already given so much," Issa said.

Feds interested in pursuing higher education degrees have a new option through OPM’s relationship with Champlain College: Masters of Science in Human Relations and Organizational Development.

“The degree will equip graduates to manage talent and nurture business growth across the public sector, nonprofits and private industry,” Champlain noted in a press release.  “The fully online program teaches the problem-solving skills needed to retain a strong workforce, attract engaged workers, and strengthen an organization’s ability to achieve goals.”

For more information, visit http://champlain.edu/mshrod or call 1-888-545-3459.  Free webinars for all prospective students will be offered on Feb. 1, at 12:00 pm EST via https://champlainonline.adobeconnect.com/mshrod02011712pm/event/registration.html and Feb. 2, at 2:00 pm EST via https://champlainonline.adobeconnect.com/mshrod0202172pm/event/registration.html.

For a chart that shows the range of higher education bargains available for federal employees, see our compilation here.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have renewed efforts to make it easier to discipline employees at the Veterans Affairs Department. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., introduced H.R. 611, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2017, and Sen. Marco Rubio introduced similar legislation in the Senate. The legislation mirrors a bill introduced in the House last year by Rep. Jeff Miller. As Kellie Lunney reported at the time: 

Under the bill, rank-and-file employees who have been fired because of performance or misconduct, and appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board, would not receive pay, bonuses, or certain other benefits while the appeal is pending. Senior executives would no longer be able to appeal removals or demotions to MSPB; instead they could appeal to an internal Senior Executive Disciplinary Appeals Board. But the secretary could reverse that board’s decision.

“This strong piece of legislation expedites the discipline process to make it easier to demote or fire employees for misconduct,” Lamborn said. “We owe it to honest VA employees, American taxpayers, and especially our veterans to hold the VA accountable for misdeeds.”