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Lawmakers Investigate Back Pay Issues, New Post-Shutdown Clarification on Promotions, and More

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House Democrats announced Wednesday that they would investigate reports of incomplete back pay to federal employees impacted by the 35-day partial government shutdown and problems related to a variety of deductions typically taken from employee paychecks.

Last week, federal workers and agencies responsible for payroll processing confirmed that thousands of Homeland Security Department employees had not yet received their first paycheck of the year, while workers at other agencies that were shuttered during the lapse in appropriations were still owed some of their back pay.

Additionally, the National Finance Center and Interior Business Center, two agencies that process payroll for hundreds of federal entities, had not taken out several normal payroll deductions, such as court-ordered child support, alimony payments, Thrift Savings Plan loan repayments and union dues.

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In a letter to Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert and Office of Management and Budget Director and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., commended the effort to encourage agencies to “act promptly” to get paychecks to feds, but demanded information about how agencies are working to restore pay to those who have not yet been made whole.

“Although Congress passed legislation to guarantee back pay for federal workers, we have heard reports of many instances of shorted pay and inconsistent tax deductions that left workers unable to make mortgage or rent payments,” they wrote. “They also received paychecks that did not reflect adjustments for missed insurance premiums, Thrift Savings Plan loan repayments, and court-ordered deductions, which have resulted in confusion and additional burdens on federal workers.”

The lawmakers asked for data on how many federal workers are still owed back pay, ongoing steps to ensure all employees receive what they are owed, and how agencies are helping those who owe wage garnishments to meet their obligations.

OPM last week issued another set of clarifying guidance to agencies, outlining how the shutdown impacted a number of HR processes, from probationary periods to within-grade step increases and other performance management programs.

In instances where a career ladder promotion had been authorized, but prevented from being implemented by HR due to the shutdown, that promotion will be processed retroactive to “honor the authorized effective date,” OPM said.

The shutdown also has no effective impact on the length of probationary periods for new federal employees, as a result of the legislation that authorized back pay for furloughed feds.

“We interpret the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 to have placed furloughed employees, retroactively, into a pay status, as of the beginning of the furlough,” OPM wrote. “In accordance with OPM regulations, periods of absence while in a pay status count toward completion of probation.”

The law similarly does not delay completion of career tenure requirements, the agency said, and furloughed feds also continued to accrue time-in-grade requirements as part of the promotion process.

OPM said it would offer an extension of 22 business days for consideration of executive core qualifications packages as part of the Senior Executive Service application process.

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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