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

Benefits Bonanza


A new report from the Office of Personnel Management outlining programs geared toward federal women and families is notable for at least one benefit not listed: paid parental leave.

In its June 4 report to the White House Council for Women and Girls, OPM listed several beneficial programs specific to the agency and governmentwide, including a child care subsidy program for low-income employees, an elder care Support Group, an expanded family-friendly leave policy, lactation centers for nursing mothers, and alternative work schedules, among others. The White House established the council in March 2009 and tasked it with ensuring federal agencies consider the needs of women and girls when developing policies, programs and legislation.

But one potential benefit that Congress still is haggling over is paid parental leave. The House approved paid parental leave for federal employees last June; legislation has stalled, however, in the Senate. OPM's report included only programs for which OPM already is responsible through legislative or regulatory authority.

"We really hope the administration will highly support paid parental leave as we try to push it through the Senate," said Janet Kopenhaver, the Washington representative for the nonprofit group Federally Employed Women. Currently, federal employees have a couple of different options to substitute for paid parental leave, including combining sick and annual leave, teleworking and alternative work schedules.

The Federal Women's Program is another benefit available that didn't appear in OPM's report. The program promotes training, mentoring and career development for federally employed women. Kopenhaver says the program is in decline. "The people who are responsible for it don't know what they're supposed to do," she said.

An OPM spokesman said the Federal Women's Program has been part of agencies' equal employment opportunity analysis and enforcement activities, rather than a benefit available to federal employees, so was not included in the report.

"Please note, however, OPM is undertaking a major initiative focused on diversity within the federal workforce, which will include emphasis on equal opportunities for women," the spokesman said.

According to Kopenhaver, FEW has been very happy with the openness and support it has received from OPM and the White House Council on Women and Girls. She said FEW representatives have met with OPM Director John Berry and members of the council and provided feedback in a number of areas.

OPM's report also highlighted a recently renewed focus on work-life balance in the agency and across the federal government. The report stated OPM recognizes work-life issues as a key element of a strong recruitment, hiring and employee engagement strategy. "Employees must be respected and valued. They need to know that management is listening and willing to support them, and that their contributions both on the job and off, make a difference."

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