The Hiring Freeze Takes a Toll on One Benefit, a Petition for a TSP Tweak and More

A roundup of pay and benefits news.

Federal employees’ biggest fear about President Trump’s hiring freeze may be that it could add to their workload if colleagues leave and aren’t replaced. But as families on at least two military bases are finding out, the moratorium on hiring may also affect the delivery of workplace benefits.

The freeze has forced Fort Knox in Kentucky and U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, to scale back their childcare offerings, reports. Fort Knox on Feb. 17 announced it will no longer offer its part-time child development center programs (which include part-day preschool) and hourly care, according to the report. The base will also not allow new families to enroll in the child development centers at this time. Similarly, Army Garrison Wiesbaden is suspending part-day programs.

Defense Department guidance on the hiring freeze does include an exemption for employees providing childcare for military families, said, but Army base commanders must still obtain permission from the service secretary to fill positions. That process can be slow, the article noted.

The hiring freeze was planned as a temporary measure until Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the yet-to-be-named Office of Personnel Management chief came up with a long-term plan to downsize the federal workforce through attrition. (Trump gave OMB and OPM until April 22 to come up with that strategy.)

But in remarks Wednesday at the beginning of a meeting on the fiscal 2018 budget with Mulvaney, other OMB staff and additional Cabinet members and advisers, Trump made a statement that could signal a longer moratorium on hiring. “Part of our commitment is to continue to do that for the American taxpayer,” Trump said of the freeze.  

The president did not get into specifics on the fiscal 2018 budget proposal as far as potential cuts to pay and benefits, but he did note that generally agencies will have to “do a lot more with less.” The budget proposal is slated to come out in mid-March, so stay-tuned for what it might mean in terms of federal employee compensation.

Meanwhile, a petitioner on the White House’s “We the People” site is requesting a tweak to federal employees’ 401(k)-style retirement plan. The petition filed Feb. 14 asks that the Thrift Savings Plan allow four free transfers among its funds per month, rather than the two currently available. TSP reduced the number of free interfund transfers to two in 2008, in an effort to curb rising transaction costs caused by a relatively small number of participants who made frequent trades.     

The petition argues that “this policy prevents government employees and military members from being in control of their own retirement account.” So far 1,960 people have signed; petitions required 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House during the Obama administration.

Kim Weaver, director for external affairs for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, on Wednesday said the board does not plan to change the rule. “Nothing that has happened in industry practice or in the TSP has given us reason to revisit the limitation imposed in 2008,” she wrote in an email. “At the end of the day, the TSP is a retirement plan, not a mutual fund.”