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A Fossil-Free TSP, Wellness at Federal Agencies and More

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The federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program could offer participants a fund devoid of fossil fuel investments, if one lawmaker has his way.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the Retirement Investments for a Sustainable Economy Act (S.3424) last week. The legislation would require the Thrift Savings Plan to offer a fund that is not linked to fossil fuel companies.

Merkley said in a statement that the measure would allow federal employees to ensure they are invested in “socially responsible” industries and corporations.

“As climate chaos ramps up, all Americans deserve the option to divest from the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “For the first time, this bill will give millions of federal employees the power to ensure their retirement funds are invested in a more sustainable, socially responsible investment portfolio.”

The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to issue an annual report “examining the risk” of investing in fossil fuel corporations, provided that governments issue policies to keep average global temperature increases at 2 degrees Celcius.

TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver said this week that the agency is “still reviewing” the legislation and does not yet have an official position.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management announced last week that it will assess health and wellness programs at various federal agencies later this year. In a memo to human resources directors, OPM Associate Director for Employee Services Mark Reinhold said the agency will offer a free online assessment of agency policies’ effectiveness in producing a healthy workforce.

WellCheck was last administered in 2016, and was incorporated into the quadrennial Federal Workforce Priorities Report earlier this year. That document recommended, among other things, offering standing desks to federal workers, encouraging employees to exercise during their breaks, and creating opportunities to play sports recreationally.

OPM reported last week that in August, the agency oversaw a slight decrease in the backlog of federal retirement claims, dropping from 18,334 pending requests in July to 17,513 in August. OPM’s “steady state goal” for its backlog is 13,000 outstanding claims.

The August decrease came despite a modest increase in the number of new retirement claims from federal workers. Last month, 8,826 federal workers applied for retirement benefits, compared to only 8,281 new requests in July.

At the root of the decrease is an uptick in claims processing. OPM completed an additional 1,500 claims last month, processing 9,647 claims compared to 8,145 in July. That led to the monthly average processing time dropping by one day to 56 days per claim.

The number of new claims is significantly higher than for the same period in 2017, when only 7,136 federal workers applied for retirement.

That uptick continues a trend of more feds leaving government over previous years. Last month, an analysis by Government Executive found that federal retirement claims were up 16 percent so far in 2018 compared with the previous year. Overall federal employment has dropped in the tens of thousands since President Trump took office, and the number of senior executives to leave government nearly doubled in the first year of the Trump administration.

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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