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

Freeze Fears

My Dec. 1 column "It Could Get Worse" focused on the continued threat of cuts to federal pay and benefits. The failure of the super committee to reach a deficit cutting deal did not eliminate that threat; in fact, this past week we saw it emerge again in congressional proposals to pay for extending the payroll tax cut. One way or another, many lawmakers are determined to see a smaller government workforce, a longer pay freeze and increased pension contributions from federal workers.

While Senate legislation that would have paid for a longer payroll tax holiday through an extended federal salary freeze and attrition failed last week, the proposal is still alive and kicking. House Republicans reportedly are considering a plan on the payroll tax cut extension that includes a prolonged pay freeze, though they have yet to officially unveil their proposal. If such a recommendation is included, Democrats won't be happy, but they haven't been particularly vocal about their opposition to an extended pay freeze, which is making federal employee unions nervous. Some members of Congress who have many government workers in their districts, such as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., have criticized the Senate GOP plan to use "federal employees as a scapegoat." But the Obama administration, while opposing the Senate plan, did not specifically single out for criticism the idea of an extended pay freeze or reducing the workforce through attrition.

The debate over funding the payroll tax cut extension intensified this week. The American Federation of Government Employees launched an ad campaign Wednesday to highlight what it called is the "hypocrisy" of Republicans in seeking to have federal workers pay for extending the payroll tax cut for most Americans. The ad campaign, known as "Explain it to me, GOP," is running in print and online nationwide. "Extending payroll tax relief for another year will boost the economy by putting an extra $1,500 in the pockets of the American family," the ad reads. "But forcing middle-class workers to pay for it is hypocrisy at its worst. Federal employees are part of the 99 percent. Explain to me, GOP, how slashing their jobs and wages helps the economy."

It's not only federal civilian workers who should be afraid of impending pay and benefits reductions. The pay freeze does not affect military service members, but there are proposals floating around that would increase health care premiums and restructure the retirement benefits of career military folks. And the collapse of the super committee triggered automatic spending cuts which, if left to stand, will hit the Defense Department hard. At the end of the day, everybody -- service members and civilian employees-- needs to be ready for cuts.

Flu Shots

Feds could be looking at a longer pay freeze, but hey, at least the government is providing them with free flu shots. The influenza vaccine is free to federal employees in federal health clinics nationwide. The Office of Personnel Management and the Health and Human Services Department sent agencies a memorandum Tuesday urging them to consider inoculating contractors along with the federal workforce. "Given the infectious nature of the influenza virus and the negative workforce and other consequences associated with contracting the virus, agencies within HHS have concluded that providing influenza vaccines to contractors is justified under the necessary expense doctrine if the contractors are co-located with or have substantial physical proximity to agency employees," the memo stated.


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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