Feds in the Washington area might want to think about sprucing up their home offices.
The Office of Personnel Management has established an interagency working group through the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to determine how federal agencies can minimize disruption from the recently announced year-long SafeTrack plan to repair and upgrade the Metrorail system. This will be no easy task, as capital region federal employees take more than 250,000 trips on the Metro each week, and make up about one-third of the system’s riders, according to data from PlanItMetro, a blog from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
One of the key elements of ensuring smooth operations during SafeTrack will be telework. In a May 20 memorandum to chief human capital officers and human resources officials, OPM acting Director Beth Cobert said agencies will be allowed to establish their own specific policies for working around the project, which will shut down some portions of track for several weeks at a time and create significant delays on other sections due to extended single-tracking. “Given the scope, duration and nature of the disruptions, the impact to agencies in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area will vary,” Cobert wrote. “That means instead of imposing a single approach for the entire federal government, [OPM] will provide guidance to agencies on how to utilize various workplace flexibilities.”
Cobert said agencies should review existing telework arrangements, renew those that are older than one year, determine if additional employees could telework, and arrive at written agreements with those workers found to be eligible. “This may provide an opportunity for agencies to review and reassess their telework eligibility criteria to determine if changes are needed to their existing programs,” Cobert said.
Agencies should also review policies on alternative work schedules, the memo stated, and should be sure to track use of both telework and other flexibilities during SafeTrack.
Cobert noted that agencies should not plan on “widespread use of excused absence[s]” during the Metro work, and that any excused absences should not be recurring or for an indefinite period.
As everyone figures out how to handle the Metro disruptions, at least one thing seems to be going smoothly: lawmakers don’t appear eager to stand in the way of President Obama’s recommended pay raise for civilian federal employees.
The fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government spending bill introduced in the House allows for Obama’s proposed 1.6 percent pay raise to move forward. As they have for many years, appropriators carved out certain high-level employees who cannot receive any pay increase, including the vice president and any political employee making the equivalent of a $230,700 annual salary.
Another clause of the bill, however, says none of the specific pay freezes “shall prevent employees who do not serve under a political appointment from receiving pay increases as otherwise provided under applicable law.”
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services reported out the bill on Wednesday, but it still needs to make its way through the full chamber and the Senate. Even if lawmakers don’t block the raise or change the amount, there are still several steps that must take place before the 1.6 percent figure becomes official.
The president has until Aug. 31 to formally announce his 2017 pay raise proposal for federal employees. If the president doesn’t inform Congress of his alternative pay plan for feds by that date, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act kicks in. Under FEPCA, the raise would be determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent. In 2017, that rate would be 2.1 percent.
Presidents, however, have largely ignored the FEPCA formula in their federal pay raise proposals, preferring to offer their own figure, which they are allowed to do under law. Congress created FEPCA, which provides an annual across-the-board salary boost and a locality pay adjustment for General Schedule employees, to close the public and private sector pay gap.
If the 1.6 percent raise goes into effect next year, then the annual increase will have been below the FEPCA formula for eight consecutive years. Still, a 1.6 percent raise would be the highest boost since 2010.
Discussions of the pay raise might get you wondering exactly how much your co-workers are earning. If you are curious, FedsDataCenter.com has announced that it now has full information on 2015 salaries. The database also has some information from 2016, but that is not yet complete. Salaries are searchable by a person’s name, as well as office location, agency and occupation. Within each category information can be sorted in different ways; for instance, you could look at salaries from highest to lowest in a certain location.
Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management continues to expand opportunities for federal employees to obtain discounts on higher education. OPM on Tuesday announced that it has partnered with Central Michigan University to give federal employees, their spouses and their dependents 15 percent off tuition for online courses and classes at satellite locations. The university will also waive the application fee for certificate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
There are more than 30 academic programs that qualify for the discount, with a focus on areas where the federal government is suffering from a skills gap, such as engineering management, cybersecurity, human resources and acquisition.
This is not the first time OPM has entered an agreement to give feds a break on tuition costs. The agency also has negotiated discounts with the mostly online Excelsior College, and with Champlain College and the University of Maryland University College.