OPM Clarifies Leave Policy, Pentagon Outlines Elective Surgery Plans, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management last week sought to clarify how agencies should treat a new form of paid leave enacted as part of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a May 22 post on the agency’s website, OPM stressed that leave payments made by agencies under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act should not be considered “basic pay” for other pay and benefits provisions, as payments are based on an employee’s “average regular [pay] rate.” The emergency sick leave provisions of the law provide federal workers with paid leave either at their regular rate of pay or at two-thirds of their normal pay, depending on the situation.

“Some of the payments included in total remuneration are non-basic pay payments, such as night pay, Sunday pay, and other differentials and allowances,” the agency wrote. “In contrast, basic pay is generally the fixed, recurring pay established for a position—unless Congress expressly provides otherwise by law.”

OPM said that leave payments will not affect other payments and benefits for employees, and it will not impact the traditional use of basic pay when administering most other federal HR provisions, including promotions, grade and pay retention, incentives for recruitment, retention and relocation, award payments, and calculation of a retiree’s annuity through an average of their highest three years of salary.

Elective Surgeries Resume 

The Defense Department last week announced its plans for the resumption of elective surgery for civilian employees and service members two months after postponing all such medical procedures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new plan from the Pentagon lays out that military treatment facilities may resume different procedures, after considering “local conditions” and coordinating with the leadership of a military installation.

In short, at “health protection condition (HPCON) C,” which means an area is experiencing “sustained community transmission” of coronavirus, local facility directors and commanders “may consider” resuming elective outpatient procedures. And at HPCON B, where an area sees “moderate” community transmission, they may consider resuming elective inpatient procedures and surgeries.

Despite the move to resume elective procedures, the Defense Department urged caution among facility directors.

“The department continues to encourage the use of virtual care when appropriate, and maintains the previously identified exceptions to policy for maintaining readiness, deployability and patient safety,” the Pentagon wrote. “[When] performing elective procedures, careful attention must be paid to local conditions, as changes may require reverting back to prior levels of MTF service.”

TSP Transfers

Officials at the Thrift Savings Plan on Wednesday reported that, following a flurry of transfers to more stable portfolios like the G Fund earlier this year, as markets plummeted amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus, participants have continued to move their funds back into traditional investment funds, particularly the lifecycle (L) funds.

TSP Chief Financial Officer Sean McCaffrey said that after the initial wave of transfers into the G Fund, which is made up of government securities, participants have begun moving their money back out, and the overall volume of such transfers has been on the decline.

“In particular, over $5 billion in net assets were transferred from the G Fund to other investment options [in April], mostly into the C and S funds,” McCaffrey said. “By contrast, in the previous month, the net flow of transfers was into the G Fund . . . The pace of interfund transfers was slowing through the month of April compared to the pace we saw in March, and the pace in May so far has slowed when compared to April.”