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

Tuition Discounts for Feds, a Tax Reform Update, and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced Wednesday that it has reached agreements with four new colleges and universities to provide discounted tuition for federal employees.

Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan announced in a memo to agencies that her office has secured academic agreements with the Catholic University of America’s Metropolitan School of Professional Studies, Pace University’s iPace Program, Park University and Utica College to provide reduced tuition rates or scholarships to federal employees.

The addition of these four schools brings the total number of institutions participating in OPM’s Federal Academic Alliance up to 15. The program is intended to help federal agencies close skills gaps and provide professional development and retention incentives for federal employees.

The agreement provides reduced tuition for federal workers both on campus and for online courses at Catholic University of America, Park University and Utica College. At Pace University only the online curricula are available to feds.

Additionally, the agreement allows feds’ spouses and dependents to attend Park University and Utica College at a discount.

“This Federal Academic Alliance provides federal government employees and their families with access to opportunities to earn a variety of bachelor and master degrees,” McGettigan said in a...

TSP Hardship Withdrawal Programs Extended, OPM Waives Pay Cap for Disaster Volunteers and More

Officials at the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal employees announced Monday that they would extend the deadline for workers and retirees impacted by Hurricane Maria to make withdrawals from their accounts under relaxed rules.

In September, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane, devastating the island. More than a month later, most residents are still without power and other necessities.

Thrift Savings Plan officials in October announced the program would allow federal workers who work or live in an area impacted by Maria to take hardship withdrawals without incurring a six-month contribution ban. Such withdrawals can also be used to assist an eligible family member who works or lived in an area hit by the storm.

The original deadline for submissions was set for Jan. 24, but with Monday’s extension, federal employees and retirees now have until March 8 to request a hardship withdrawal. The funds must be distributed by March 15.

Officials also announced Monday that the TSP also would extend the relaxed hardship withdrawal rules to federal employees and retirees who were affected by the wildfires in California last month. Any TSP enrollee who lives or works in an area impacted...

Leave Transfer for Wildfires, TSP Portfolios Grow, and More

The Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday that it has established an emergency leave transfer program for federal employees that are victims of the recent wildfires in northern California.

Similar to recently approved programs for feds impacted by hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico and Florida, OPM’s latest measure allows federal employees to donate unused annual leave to colleagues living in areas affected by the wildfires that ravaged California wine country last month and who need additional time off without using their own paid leave.

Employees who intend to make use of the leave transfer program must live or work within one of the regions for which formal disaster declarations have been made in relation to the wildfires. They must apply to their agencies in writing, but an employee who is unable to do so may apply through a personal representative.

Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan said in a statement that the program is an important tool to help federal employees affected by disasters to get back on their feet.

“More than 10,000 federal employees are working in areas affected by the wildfires in California,” McGettigan said. “As the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to assess the impact of...

TSP to Trade Speed for Security, IRS Announces Max Contribution Increase, and More

Officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings plan announced Monday that the Thrift Savings Plan participants soon may see some services and requests take longer to process as the agency explores new security measures.

The new initiative comes in the wake of news in September that Equifax allowed the personal information of 143 million people, including Social Security numbers, to be compromised. Tee Ramos, director of the office of participant services at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, said the agency is working on new ways to authenticate participants when they make requests regarding their accounts.

“We’re making changes continually to ensure the security of our processes, and we’ll continue to do that through IT and my shop,” Ramos said. “In some cases, we’re going to have to sacrifice speed and convenience for security . . . Some of the changes we’re going to make over the next several months are possibly going to slow down some of our processes.”

Ramos clarified that upcoming changes likely would not affect customer service through the TSP’s ThriftLine call center, but that participants seeking withdrawals or other financial services will see a slower...

Lawmakers Urge Reversal of Defense Per Diem Cuts, Senate Debates Budget Resolution and More

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging congressional leaders to reverse a 2014 policy reducing the per diem rates for service members and civilian Defense employees who are on extended government travel.

Implemented by the Pentagon in 2014 in an effort to cut costs, the rule has long been a sore spot for Defense personnel and members of Congress. The policy reduced long-term temporary duty travel reimbursement rates by 25 percent for travel between 31 and 180 days, and by 45 percent for trips longer than 180 days. The rates include lodging, meals and incidentals, and vary by locality.

Led by Reps. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., 13 lawmakers sent a letter the leadership of the Senate and House Armed Forces committees asking that they insert language into the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to reverse the rule.

The lawmakers cited a May Government Accountability Office report that said the Defense Department “may not be well positioned to understand whether the flat rate per diem policy is cost-beneficial and meeting its objectives . . . without negatively affecting the traveler and the mission.”

The House version of the fiscal 2018 NDAA blocks the 2014 rule, and it requires...