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Pay and Benefits in a Shutdown, Expanded Naval Paternity Leave and More

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Officials with the U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that the service branch will more than double the amount of paid leave provided to sailors whose spouses have given birth, according to a news report.

As early as next month, the Navy will increase the number of days a sailor can receive in paid time off for paternity leave from 10 to 21, Federal News Radio reported. Vice Adm. Robert Burke, who is in charge of the Navy’s personnel issues, announced the new policy speaking to sailors and their families in Japan.

The new policy was enabled by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed branches of the military to adopt up to 21 days of paid leave for service members, although it did not require it. The Navy is the first branch to implement the new authority laid out in the NDAA.

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Meanwhile, the civilian federal workforce is, for the third time in two months, bracing for the potential impact of a government shutdown. Congress is expected to vote this week on another four-week continuing resolution ahead of a Friday night deadline to keep agencies open.

If lawmakers fail to come to an agreement in time to keep the lights on, here’s what feds can expect in terms of pay and benefits, based on guidance from the Office of Personnel Management issued in 2015.

Salaries: Agencies are required to pay employees deemed essential or exempt from the shutdown, although those paychecks won’t go out until after the government reopens. Furloughed employees have no guarantee that they will be compensated, although Congress traditionally has issued back pay after the conclusion of a shutdown.

Last year, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced the Federal Employee Fair Treatment Act (S.861), which would ensure that in the event of a shutdown, federal workers would be given back pay once funding is restored. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., have introduced similar legislation in the House.

Bonuses: Agencies may award performance bonuses to employees during a shutdown, but they won’t be paid out until after agencies reopen.

Unemployment: Furloughed federal workers are eligible for unemployment compensation in some states. But after the 2013 shutdown, many employees who availed themselves of that program had to return the money once Congress approved their back pay.

Health Insurance: Furloughed federal employees will maintain their health insurance coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program during a shutdown. Premiums still will accrue over the course of a shutdown, and they will be taken out of employees’ first paycheck after the government reopens.

If employees are furloughed for two consecutive pay periods, they will be billed via mail to maintain coverage through the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Programs.

Retirement Benefits: Retirees enrolled in the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System will continue to receive their benefits during a shutdown. But current employees enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan will not contribute to their accounts or receive an employer match until pay resumes.

Leave: Federal workers cannot take paid leave in lieu of unpaid furloughs if the government shuts down, and in the event that agencies close, any already scheduled leave or sick days will be canceled.

Last week, OPM began its annual solicitation for data from agencies so that it can compile its annual report on performance-based pay for executives. In a memo to departments, Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director for employee services, requested information summarizing performance ratings for fiscal 2017 and pay and awards data for members of the Senior Executive Service and other classifications of senior employees.

Reinhold said his agency will both use the data in its own report on the federal government’s executive-level performance-based pay initiative as well as to evaluate whether to approve agencies’ proposals for high-level performance-based pay in the future.

“OPM will consolidate the submitted data for inclusion in OPM’s annual report on executive pay for performance,” Reinhold wrote. “OPM will also analyze the data to determine correlation of performance ratings and ratings-based pay and awards, separately, when reviewing organizations’ requests for certification of SES and [senior level and scientific and professional] performance appraisal systems.”

Reports will be due by the end of March.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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