By WeStudio /

The Growing Retirement Backlog, Encouraging Feds to Volunteer and More

A weekly round-up of pay and benefits news.

The number of pending federal retirement claims grew in May, despite the fact that the rate of new requests continued to decline last month, the Office of Personnel Management reported Tuesday.

The retirement backlog grew by around 500 claims to 18,024 in May, up from 17,489 the previous month. That happened despite a significant decrease in the number of new retirement requests, which hit a five-month low of 7,625 in May.

The agency’s target “stable state” of pending retirement claims is 13,000.

Although OPM processed more than 9,000 claims in April, that figure dropped to 7,090 last month. Despite the slowdown in the number of claims, the average time OPM took to process a retirement claim on a monthly basis stayed steady at 58 days. 

Last week, OPM Director Jeff Pon implemented provisions of an Obama-era executive order to boost participation in the federal government’s annual charity fundraising effort. In a memo to agencies, Pon outlined ways that agencies can improve morale and employee retention through the use of group volunteer activities as part of the Combined Federal Campaign.

The Obama order, signed in 2016, authorized federal employees to be able to give their time to qualifying nonprofits, in addition to monetary donations, and said that the two forms of giving would be considered to be on equal footing. Beginning last year, federal retirees became able to donate a portion of their annuities through the campaign.

OPM offered guidelines for agency officials to engage employees about the development of group volunteer projects, and stressed that the selection process for recipient projects should be “fair and open.” Pon also reiterated that volunteer hours must be done on an employee’s own time, not during work hours, and noted that volunteer contributions would be reported separately from traditional donations.

Meanwhile, the legal fight between federal employee unions and the Trump administration over the use of official time gained another entrant this week. President Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at significantly reducing the amount of time union employees can be compensated for representational duties, cracking down what activities are eligible for official time, and charging unions rent for the use of government property.

The American Federation of Government Employees sued to block the implementation of the executive order last week, and the National Treasury Employees Union soon followed suit. And on Tuesday, officials announced that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had filed a motion to join AFGE’s lawsuit.

In its filing, AFSCME argued that by ordering agencies to enforce a cap on employees’ use of official time at 25 percent of their work hours, the administration is preventing departments from negotiating in good faith during collective bargaining agreement discussions, in violation of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.

“By instructing a federal agency to bargain in bad faith with its own workers, Trump has not only disrespected the people who take pride in keeping our country safe and healthy, he has also instructed his government to break the law and violated his own constitutionally mandated duty of care,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders in a statement. “Public service workers in our federal government are dedicated to improving America’s communities and they faithfully execute the laws of our country every day. We demand that the president of the United States be held to the same standard.”