Maryna Pleshkun / AP

OPM Outlines Pay Changes, the Future of Long-Term Care and More

A weekly round-up of pay and benefits news.

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management, in conjunction with the Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget, released its first quarterly report on how to implement the cross-agency priorities outlined by President Trump’s management agenda.

The document featured a laundry list of reforms to the hiring process, performance management procedures and ways to reward top performers. Among the planned initiatives is an effort by the government’s HR agency to identify “leading practices” surrounding cash bonuses and recruitment and retention and relocation incentives to attract and keep high performing employees. OPM and the Defense Department will also develop best practices for “alternative personnel systems” by the end of 2018.

In addition, the document outlines opportunities to introduce automation throughout the federal government. As NexGov’s Jack Corrigan writes, according to OPM, 60 percent of federal occupations could have at least 30 percent of their activities automated, and 5 percent of federal jobs could be eliminated altogether in favor of automation.

“Although the impact of machine assistance varies by occupation, the use of automation has the potential to provide employees with time to focus on more important work,” officials wrote. “Reskilling and redeployment strategies may be required to shift staff time to higher value duties.”

OPM committed to developing three pilot programs to test the introduction of automation to federal agencies by early 2019, and officials will unveil a plan to reskill feds impacted by automation so they can do other work the following quarter.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s long-term care insurance program could use a back-up plan, according to an audit released Tuesday by OPM’s Office of the Inspector General. Although the agency closely monitors developments surrounding the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, analysts said a rapid evolution in how insurance companies offer similar plans, coupled with significant rate hikes in recent years, indicate a formal contingency plan should be in order.

OPM in 2015 sought a new firm to administer the FLTCIP to federal workers, after John Hancock Life and Health Insurance Co. rolled out premium increases for new enrollees and indicated rates would soon rise for current participants as well. But after a year-long bidding process, John Hancock was the only applicant, in part because most insurance companies no longer offer such plans, and in 2016 premiums increased by an average of 83 percent.

Although OPM’s contract with John Hancock ensures that the agency can continue to offer the program even after the contract expires, the inspector general said OPM should adopt a formal plan to protect enrollees and consider changes to FLTCIP.

“Considering the rapidly changing environment of the long-term care insurance industry, OPM should develop a contingency plan to prepare for future FLTCIP procurement challenges,” the inspector general wrote. “Although some changes may require regulatory or legislative actions, OPM should be proactive in planning for any changes that could arise in the future.”

Procrastinating feds were given an extra day to do their part to fund the government on Tuesday, as on this year’s tax filing deadline day, the Internal Revenue Service experienced several outages on its website.

On Tuesday evening, acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter apologized for the inconvenience, and announced that the agency would suspend the deadline to midnight on April 18. An IRS spokesperson told NextGov that the outages appear to be related to hardware issues.