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

A TSP Call Center Spike, Shutdown Back Pay and More

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Last week, the Office of Personnel Management confirmed in a memo that any federal employee who was furloughed as the result of the hours-long government shutdown earlier this month will receive back pay.

Although Congress early on Feb. 9 approved a bill to fund the government until March 23 and to raise overall spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, the fact that lawmakers missed the Feb. 8 deadline meant that many feds spent at least a portion of their work day waiting on the government to officially reopen, said acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan.

OPM instructed agencies to use flexibility when considering employees’ pay and leave status and encouraged them to use “excused absence” status when appropriate. The agency’s instructions also indicated that a pay freeze on top political appointees and officials, in place since fiscal 2013, would remain in effect until the end of the current continuing resolution.

Participants in the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement program apparently were especially eager to discuss their investments with officials Tuesday, as the Thrift Savings Plan sent out a notification informing people that call center volume was higher than usual.

But the flood of calls was not related to any specific recent development regarding the TSP like the Blended Retirement System or President Trump’s proposed changes to the program in the fiscal 2019 budget request. TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver said the day following President’s Day always produces the highest number of customer calls in any given year.

“The Tuesdays after long weekends are heavier days, but nothing like after President’s Day weekend,” she said. “Our hypothesis is that people spend time over the long weekend working on [or] thinking about taxes, and then they want to talk to the TSP about their 1099-R or other tax-related questions.”

Efforts across government to improve hiring and retention of Senior Executive Service members are faltering, according to a recent survey of the federal government’s top civil servants.

As Eric Katz reports, the Office of Personnel Management recently released a survey to evaluate training and onboarding for new SES hires, and just 36 percent of new SES members reported a positive response to whether the government’s onboarding program suited their needs.

Additionally, more than one in three respondents said they received no information on team goals, personnel policies or internal procedures “needed to do my job” within their just month in the SES.

“The results from this survey highlight the need for agencies to expand their onboarding programs and support the success of senior executives throughout the executives’ first year of service in new SES positions,” OPM said.

OPM said the survey was conducted first to “establish a baseline” so that officials can evaluate a new governmentwide requirement to provide onboarding programs to help bolster agencies’ ranks of senior executives.

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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