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

Doubling of Paid Maternity Leave, Overtime Pay Fix, Hiring Preference for Gold Star Fathers and More

Zdenka Darula /

Navy moms and moms-to-be may get a belated Mother’s Day present: a doubling of their current paid maternity leave, and extended daycare hours. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Wednesday announced that the service will propose legislation to increase paid maternity leave from six to 12 weeks next year. The Navy also plans to boost staff at child care facilities on three major bases, allowing facilities to offer two additional hours of care in the mornings and evenings. The changes are part of a sweeping proposal to reform the service’s dated personnel system.

The proposals are for the Navy, but the Associated Press noted that if Congress enacts the additional paid leave, it could ultimately be extended to members of all military branches.

Meanwhile, senators are working on extending benefits to fathers of fallen and disabled soldiers. The Senate earlier this week passed legislation (S. 136) that would grant these fathers the same federal hiring preferences as Gold Star mothers. Currently mothers of soldiers killed or permanently disabled while on duty receive a 10-point hiring preference for federal jobs.

“When a service member is killed in action or permanently and totally disabled, the government should do its part to be there for grieving parents – no matter if they’re fathers or mothers,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who reintroduced the legislation in January with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “It’s time we honor the sacrifice of Gold Star fathers by passing this legislation and ensuring that fathers receive the same preferences as mothers and spouses.”

The Senate passed the bill the last time it was introduced, but the measure stalled in the House. This time around, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., introduced a companion bill (H.R. 1222) but it has not moved out of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The oversight committee was busy Wednesday fixing a separate pay issue affecting Border Patrol agents. The panel passed a bill clarifying that reforms to agents’ overtime pay won’t take effect until a new system is completely in place.

President Obama signed the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act into law in December. The law was set up to curb abuses of administratively uncontrollable overtime, which is meant to be used when unforeseen events force agents to stay past the end of their regular shift.

The new law seeks to simplify border agents’ pay system. It will allow Border Patrol agents to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week pay period. Those who choose the 100-hour option will be paid 1.25 times their normal base pay, but would not receive any extra compensation for their overtime hours. Employees opting to work 90 hours per pay period will earn 1.125 times their normal base pay, while those who work 80 hours will simply earn their normal base pay as determined by their General Schedule rank.

Employees who work more than their agreed upon schedule -- which Border Patrol managers and advocates have said occurs regularly and allows agents to remain in pursuit of criminals when their shift ends -- will be rewarded through compensatory time off.

Customs and Border Protection officials “fundamentally misunderstood the intent of the new law,” however, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a statement on Wednesday. An agency decision in April would have forced agents to pay back overtime they had earned, and would have deprived them of overtime pay between April 19 and May 16, the committee said.

The bill panel members passed on Wednesday (H.R. 2252) spells out that agents should continue to receive overtime pay until the new compensation system is complete. “The men and women who serve as Border Patrol Agents are hardworking and dedicated law enforcement officials,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, in a statement. “They often work in harsh conditions, sometimes putting their own lives at risk, in order to protect our nation and their communities. They and their families deserve our support and the security of a steady, dependable monthly income.”

Law enforcement officers more broadly would receive earlier, penalty-free access to their retirement savings under a bipartisan bill the House passed Tuesday. H.R. 2146 would reform the tax code so that federal law enforcement officers and firefighters, who are eligible to retire earlier than many other federal employees, aren’t subject to the 10 percent tax penalty on Thrift Savings Plan retirement funds and other 401(k)-type plans tapped before the age of 59 and a half. Civilians who access their retirement investments, such as a 401(k), prior to turning 55 if they are retired, or 59.5 if they are still working, incur the Internal Revenue Service fine.

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