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

Paid Family Leave, Double Incentive Pay for a Stressful Job and More

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The president’s annual State of the Union speech often addresses the role of government, broadly, and may even give a shout out to particular federal workers. But it rarely delves into specific federal pay and benefits issues, and this year was no exception. Obama did, however, make reference Tuesday night to one hot button proposal that would affect the federal workforce: paid family leave.

“Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said.

He did not specifically mention civil servants, but they are among the workers who lack paid maternity leave. Last week Obama ordered agencies to change that, by advancing employees six weeks of paid sick time to care for newborn babies or ill family members. He asked lawmakers to pass a bill granting another six weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

Of course, it’s unclear if Congress will cooperate. Past proposals to give feds paid parental leave haven’t gotten very far. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been offering bills along those lines since 2000; the House has passed the measure twice, but it has stalled in the Senate. Maloney plans to try again, and if her bill does become law with President Obama’s weight behind it, new federal parents would have a total of 12 weeks of paid leave. 

Obama on Tuesday night also praised the work of both military members and civilians abroad, but some lawmakers are not as enamored of Defense civilians. A group of Republicans has again unveiled a bill that would cut about 115,000 civilian jobs at the Pentagon. Senior executives wouldn’t be insulated from the cuts; the legislation would cap the number of top-level managers at 1,000 from fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2026. 

Troops likely have their own worries, with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission due to make its recommendations to President Obama and Congress by Feb. 1. The report comes as Defense leaders have warned that growth in compensation is unsustainable.

That said, there are pockets within the military where generous pay has been deemed a necessity. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James last week authorized a bump in incentive pay for drone pilots to decrease turnover that is resulting from long hours and stressful work. Bonus pay for these pilots will nearly double, jumping from $650 per month to $1,500 per month.

Meanwhile, a husband and wife who hatched a scheme to collect $4 million in Army recruiting bonuses remain employed by the Defense Department, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. The couple is said to have set up a bogus website to collect the names of people who likely would have joined the Army anyway. The names netted a $2,000 bonus per recruit. The practice may have been sleazy, but it was legal, a Defense official told McCaskill. The senator still wants the department to take a “hard look” at the perpetrators, though, and she asked for more safeguards to protect against future recruiting schemes.

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