Union Fires Back at Pension-Cutting Bill, the IRS Gets Managers’ Pay Wrong and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

A union representing federal law enforcement employees is turning up the heat against Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., over his bill that would reduce the pensions of government workers who spend too much of their work day on union representational activity.

The legislation (H.R. 1364), which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee advanced last month, would prevent federal employees who spend more than 80 percent of their day on official time for the union from counting that toward their retirement benefits, and it would make them ineligible for bonuses. It also would prohibit federal employees from performing lobbying activities while on official time.

Federal employee unions have argued that the bill is a union-busting measure that would silence workers. Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, said Tuesday he has tried to get in touch with Hice to discuss the issue, but the congressman’s office has been “unresponsive.” Now Young is trying a new approach: two roadside billboards in Hice’s home district encouraging constituents to contact the lawmaker directly with their objections.

“We want to educate his constituency in his district that we’re the people who protect you,” Young said. “But your representative is trying to take away our pensions while some of us are losing our lives behind the prison walls and fences across America.”

Young said the bill would severely inhibit law enforcement groups from being able to advocate for adequate staffing, funding and safety measures like the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2016, which allows correctional officers to carry pepper spray and is named for an officer who was killed on the job in an understaffed prison and was equipped only with handcuffs and a radio.

“Who do I go to on official time? Congress,” Young said. “But what [Hice’s] bill would do is penalize me from being able to go to Congress to bring issues of concern to his attention and also to the attention of the public. We protect the public, but how can we protect the public when we can’t address issues of malfeasance in the Bureau of Prisons or let Congress know if we’re not properly funded?”

In the “turnabout is fair play” department, an audit of the IRS released Monday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration suggests that being a manager at the agency is a bit like landing on the Community Chest space in Monopoly.

Auditors found that the complex system for determining salaries for managerial positions at the IRS led to 31 percent of sampled employees receiving incorrect pay between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2015. The office estimated that the IRS overpaid more than 600 employees to the tune of $4.2 million, while more than 900 managers got stiffed for a total of $2.7 million.

The IRS has already taken action to improve the accuracy of pay calculations moving forward, including adding more levels of salary review and establishing a team to review whether nearly 1,000 IRS employees are currently being overpaid.

But auditors recommended the agency develop a simpler way to calculate managers’ salaries to help eliminate the problem. IRS officials agreed with the findings in a written response and outlined steps to implement auditors’ recommendations.

Elsewhere in financial oversight, the Government Accountability Office recently found that measures intended to protect victims of the 2015 breach of Office of Personnel Management data may not be as effective as originally thought. According to a report released last month, OPM has been spending too much money on identity theft insurance for the current and former federal employees caught up in the hack.

As NextGov reports, GAO said the congressionally required $5 million in identity theft insurance offered to affected employees is “likely unnecessary because claims paid rarely exceed a few thousand dollars.”

And what’s more is that, by the government paying too much for coverage, it could distort the insurance market, increasing costs for private companies and individual consumers. Instead, the report suggests that Congress should give OPM more leeway to choose how much insurance to provide employees impacted by the data breach.