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

Reviewing the 3Rs

Recruitment, retention and relocation incentives may be a perk for some federal employees, but the government's so-called 3Rs program is getting some extra scrutiny from the Office of Personnel Management.

In a memorandum to chief human capital officers, OPM Director John Berry requested that agencies submit reports on 3Rs payments made in 2010 and 2011. Reports should include data on the number and dollar amount of incentives provided, as well as an explanation of changes in how bonuses were used across occupations, grade levels and pay plans from year to year. Agencies also should describe barriers to using 3Rs incentives and whether another agency's payment of retention incentives affected their ability to undertake their missions.

Agencies that did not use 3Rs in 2010 or 2011 must submit a report stating this, Berry said.

The OPM director issued a memo to agency heads in June asking them to hold total spending on 3Rs payments to 2010 levels through 2012. The federal government paid out more than $349 million in recruitment, relocation and retention incentives in 2009, a 22 percent increase over the previous year.

Lodging Limits

The government will not reimburse employees who stay on their own property while on work-related travel, according to the General Services Administration. In a recent Federal Register rule, GSA clarified that agencies are not allowed to provide a lodging per diem to federal workers who purchase and stay in recreational vehicles or campers while on official out-of-office business. The restriction also extends to employees' homes -- unfortunately, workers will not get paid for sleeping in their own beds.

Pension Contribution Rates

Earlier this month, the amount the government contributes to the pension plans of federal employees rose slightly. For most federal employees, the amount agencies contribute to their pensions under the Federal Employees Retirement System rose from 11.7 percent to 11.9 percent at the start of fiscal 2012.

Many readers responded to our Oct. 5 story on the increased agency contribution rates seeking clarification on the amount individual federal employees contribute to their retirement pensions.

Here's a breakdown of how much federal employees contribute to their plans depending on which retirement system they are part of:

  • FERS: Employees pay 0.8 percent of their basic salary.
  • Civil Service Retirement System: Employees pay 7 percent of their basic salary.
  • CSRS Special Groups (including law enforcement officers, firefighters, members of Congress, etc.): Employees contribute 7.5 percent of their basic salary.
  • FERS Special Groups (including law enforcement officers, firefighters, members of Congress, etc.): Employees contribute 1.3 percent of their basic salary.

The total cost of FERS pensions, adding individual and agency contributions, for most federal employees will be 12.7 percent in fiscal 2012. The changes took effect at the beginning of the first pay period on or after Oct. 1.

For more information, check out the retirement handbook from the Office of Personnel Management.

President Obama released a proposal Sept. 19 that recommended increasing the amount federal employees contribute to their pensions by 1.2 percent over three years beginning in 2013 -- a rate of 0.4 percent each year during that time.


Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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