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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

A Small Dent in the Retirement Backlog, Tips for Feds to Prevent Opioid Abuse, and More

After months of struggling to cope with the number of federal employees filing retirement requests, the Office of Personnel Management made modest progress in reducing the backlog in September.

OPM reported last week that it had received 8,810 new retirement claims for the month, and it processed 9,107 requests. That marks the first month since June that the agency has processed more claims than it took in.

Overall, the backlog of requests dropped from 17,125 at the end of August to 16,828 last month. But the percentage of claims processed within 60 days dropped on a monthly basis from 70 percent in August to 65 percent last month.

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In August, OPM officials confirmed that President Trump’s hiring freeze at the beginning of 2017 hampered their ability to process retirement claims on a timely basis. But they said the agency’s retirement services office “mitigated the impact of staff shortages” with a number of process improvements.

Although the retirement backlog is often a sore topic for congressional watchdogs, OPM said retiring feds do not see the impact of a long waiting...

More Help for Feds Affected by Hurricanes and More Flexibility for Those Who Want to Volunteer

The Office of Personnel Management has continued its work to help federal employees affected by the string of severe storms to hit the United States and to offer avenues for workers to contribute to the various recovery efforts.

Officials announced last week that they have granted a grace period for charities located in areas impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to allow them additional time to complete the requirements to participate in this year’s Combined Federal Campaign.

OPM said it is already in direct contact with the affected charities and will provide further guidance moving forward. The CFC officially launched Monday, but because of the storms, OPM said it will not launch the web portal for donations until later this month.

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“By giving charities a little more time, we helped maximize their opportunity to participate in the CFC to the fullest extent possible after this unprecedented series of catastrophic hurricanes,” said OPM acting Director Kathy McGettigan, in a statement. “They can continue to focus on what’s most important right now—caring for themselves and their communities—and still have the chance to...

Bonuses for Surpluses, Another Federal Pay Comparison, and More

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a bill last week that would award bonuses to federal employees that identify surplus funds in their agencies’ budgets.

The Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act (S. 1830) would allow agency inspectors general to authorize bonuses in instances where workers identify unneeded or surplus funds. Paul said the bill is aimed at combatting spending binges at the end of the federal budget calendar, when he said agencies adopt a “use it or lose it” mentality.

“Reining in and controlling end-of-the-year spending binges should be a bipartisan priority,” Paul said at a hearing last week. “Hopefully our hearing today will renew interest on both sides of the aisle to address accelerated, wasteful spending at the end of the fiscal year.”

Under the bill, a maximum of 10 percent of identified savings could go to the federal employee responsible for identifying the surplus, while the remainder would go toward deficit reduction. Bonuses could not be awarded to employees at the top level of the Executive Schedule pay system, to agency heads or to voting members of independent boards.

But Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, testified that agencies’ back-loaded spending tendencies are in part...

VA Needs Better Relocation Incentive Tracking, Flu Season Approaches and More

A government watchdog said the Veteran Affairs Department should do more to track the effectiveness of a program that helps relocating employees sell their homes.

A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday said VA has taken steps to tighten its internal controls over its use of the General Services Administration’s Appraised Value Offer program in response to a 2015 report from the agency’s inspector general. But the agency does not adequately track the program’s usage in order to better inform future decision-making on its deployment.

AVO is a program that federal agencies can use to recruit and relocate employees for mission critical positions where a GSA contractor will help find a purchaser for the employee’s home—or purchase it outright.

In 2014, Diana Rubens, senior executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Philadelphia office, was accused of abusing her authority to secure a transfer from Washington, D.C., to her current position, along with nearly $310,000 in relocation costs, including more than $200,000 through AVO.

Rubens was demoted while she under investigation, but that decision was overturned by a judge in 2016.

Last year, VA made a number of improvements to its administration...

Secret Service Overtime Bill Moves Forward, Vets in Government Make Less, and More

A House panel voted Wednesday to advance a bill that raises the cap on total pay U.S. Secret Service employees can earn in 2017.

In August, Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today that more than 1,000 agents had already hit the cap on the amount of overtime pay they can receive in a year. Alles initially blamed the funding crisis on the size of Trump’s family and his frequent travel, but later walked back his comments, instead saying it resulted from a number of long-running issues like staffing levels.

The 2017 Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 3731), introduced Monday by Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., would raise the pay cap for Secret Service employees from $160,000 per year to $187,000 for 2017 and 2018. It also would direct the Secret Service to submit a report on the agency’s recruitment and retention efforts, including data on attrition, morale issues and strategies to address these issues.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill without amendment and by voice vote.

“The men and women of the Secret Service deserve to be paid for the...