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

Momentum on Phased Retirement, Scrutiny of Senior Exec Bonuses and More


The biggest benefits news this week may be that the Defense Department is on board with phased retirement. Defense civilians who have been employed at the department full time for at least three consecutive years and are retirement eligible will now be able to take advantage of the arrangement, so long as they obtain approval from an authorized manager within their component, said a June 21 memo from acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Peter Levine. “DoD components may limit the number of employees included in the Phased Retirement Program, as appropriate,” the memo noted.

Phased retirement allows eligible feds to work 20 hours per week, receiving half their pay as well as half their retirement annuity. Those employees who enter phased retirement must devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period, to mentoring other employees, ideally for those who take over for them when they fully retire.

Though Congress passed a law four years ago allowing phased retirement, the benefit has been slow to catch on within the federal government. Agencies are in charge of establishing their own programs, and many have not done so. The Defense Department’s move may prompt more to follow suit, as noted in Kellie Lunney’s story on the new program.  For more information on other agencies that do already offer phased retirement, click here. And for more on the Defense program, click here.

Meanwhile, for those feds who work in the Washington area and aren’t yet ready to retire, this may be a trying summer. The Metrorail’s SafeTrack program of repairs and upgrades is under way, and this week marks the first time portions of track have been completely closed. The Office of Personnel Management left agencies to develop their own policies on use of workplace flexibilities such as telework to keep employees productive during the year-long project. If you are a D.C. area fed, please use the comments section to let us know how SafeTrack is affecting you, and whether your agency has been helpful in minimizing disruptions to your workflow.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are looking into the bonuses of federal senior executives. The inquiry was prompted by revelations that one former executive at the Transportation Security Administration received $90,000 in performance awards over a 13-month period. TSA has since capped bonuses for individual employees at $10,000 annually, but that hasn’t stopped Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., from asking the Office of Personnel Management for data on the number of senior executives governmentwide who received multiple bonuses in any fiscal year between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, as well as how many of those performance awards exceeded the statutory caps on what agencies are allowed to pay out.

In other news for senior executives, OPM has taken steps to encourage job rotations in security positions. New guidance directs agencies to create a hiring preference for participants in a three-year-old governmentwide program designed to help build professional development and expertise for senior leaders in national and homeland security issues, including nuclear proliferation, terrorism and natural disaster relief. The National Security Professional Development Interagency Rotations Program, created by the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, allows a group of executive branch employees to move among government agencies for one year to gain experience in security matters and help cultivate better cooperation among such agencies.

In the guidance, OPM instructed agencies to show such candidates “a strong preference” for national security jobs in the Senior Executive Service, but also gave agencies “discretion and flexibility” in crafting job requirements.

Senior execs may need an extra nudge to move around, according to data from a new report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Fifty-three percent of career senior executives have not changed jobs while in the SES, according to fiscal 2015 data from OPM cited in the PPS report. Reduced mobility may stem from: people’s reluctance to uproot to another geographic region, performance management systems that aren’t standard across agencies, and a lack of transparency into the rotational assignment decision-making process, the report said.

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