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

A Plea for Tax Help for Relocating Feds, Locality Pay on Track for 2019

Two Democratic senators last week asked the General Services Administration to do more to help federal workers navigate the new tax code when they are forced to relocate to a new duty station.

Earlier this year, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Virginia Democrats, pushed GSA to resolve a consequence of the 2017 tax overhaul bill that put federal employees on the hook for thousands of dollars in tax bills related to government-paid relocation expenses after agencies required them to move for work.

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In May, GSA announced that it would authorize agencies to pay increased relocation income tax allowances (RITA) and withholding tax allowances (WTA) to cover “substantially all” of the increased tax bills associated with a provision of the tax law that removed the deduction for government reimbursements related to household goods. But Kaine and Warner last week urged GSA Administrator Emily Murphy to do more to ensure federal employees are properly informed of their options.

The crux of the issue is that some federal employees reportedly have only been informed of the changes to RITA, a program that can take an extended...

Federal Salary Council Revives Fight Over Federal Employee Pay Comparability

Members of a group tasked with advising agency officials on how to eliminate pay disparities between federal employees and their private sector counterparts are in the midst of a debate on how best to calculate that pay gap, with Trump administration appointees on one side and labor groups on the other.

The Federal Salary Council on Tuesday weighed potential changes to how the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates pay disparities to determine which regions require their own locality pay levels so that federal employees’ pay keeps pace with workers in the private sector.

The three Trump administration appointees argued that the current methodology does not adequately capture differences in pay and advocated, among other ideas, that the White House propose legislation to require pay comparisons to include “total compensation,” including non-salary benefits like health insurance and pensions. But the proposal, along with two more modest suggestions to widen data collection, were opposed by members representing federal employee unions, who argued the proposed changes were an attempt to “politicize” the council’s work.

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Council Chairman Ronald Sanders said the current methodology, which consists of examining the...

Cost of Living Adjustments for Military Retirees, the Blended Retirement Deadline Looms and More

The Defense Department announced Tuesday that military retirees and survivors will receive an increase in their pay and annuities in 2019.

Beginning Jan. 1, most military retirees, enrollees in the Survivor Benefit Plan and survivors of service members who died on active or inactive duty, will receive a 2.8 percent increase to their retired pay, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Additionally, survivors who are eligible for the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance program will receive a 2.8 percent increase, with the maximum amount available reaching $318. The Defense Department calculated the cost of living adjustment based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers between September 2017 and September 2018.

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Officials at the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program are reminding service members that they have less than two months to decide whether to opt into the Thrift Savings Plan for matching contributions.

Dec. 31 is the deadline for members of the military to decide whether to enroll in the Blended Retirement System. The program offers for the first time an employer match...

Pay Satisfaction Improves, VA Tweaks Pension Benefits for Veterans

Although the recently released results of the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey suggested that federal workers still are not satisfied with how raises and promotions are doled out across government, they appear to be growing more satisfied with their own salaries.

The percentage of respondents who reported that they are satisfied with their pay increased by 2 points this year, reaching 63 percent in 2018. The increase in satisfaction continues a trend dating back to 2012, when satisfaction with pay was only 54 percent. That nadir came in the midst of a three-year pay freeze between 2011 and 2013.

In 2018, federal workers received a 1.9 percent pay raise, although President Trump has proposed that the government freeze employees’ pay next year. Some agencies have begun to prepare to implement that proposal, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Congress will overrule the plan and provide civilian employees with a 1.9 percent raise next year. Republicans negotiating a fiscal 2019 spending package said they will agree to a raise.

After next week’s midterm elections, lawmakers will have until Dec. 7 to approve a bill to fund a variety of agencies for the...

Federal Officers Association Asks OPM to Roll Back 2016 Annuity Change

A group representing the federal law enforcement community last week sent a letter to acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert asking her to roll back an Obama administration decision to change how payments to divorced retirees are distributed to them and their former spouses.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents more than 27,000 federal law enforcement professionals across 65 agencies, blasted a 2016 OPM decision to grant a “marital share” of the Federal Employees Retirement System Retiree Annuity Supplement to a retiree’s ex-spouse if the retiree is subject to a state divorce decree. Before that decision, the agency would only grant that share based on the basic annuity.

The retiree annuity supplement is the money that is paid to retirees who are not yet eligible for Social Security, which kicks in at age 62. Many law enforcement positions force officers to retire at 57. For decades, the supplement was not subject to a court-ordered marital share because OPM considered it to be a Social Security-type benefit, and thus not part of a divorce agreement.

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“This policy change constituted an unwarranted reinterpretation of...