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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Problems Voting Overseas, Financial Management Help, Fair Pay Dustup and More

The 2016 presidential election is drawing attention to the highly decentralized nature of the U.S. election system, where every state seems to operate according to a unique set of rules and deadlines. For military personnel and federal employees serving overseas, figuring out how to vote absentee makes the process even more daunting.

There’s help available for navigating the voting process from overseas. But as the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a report last week, the help itself is confusing to many. To its credit, the Defense Department has taken steps to improve voter assistance efforts through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. But as GAO notes:

“Two long-standing issues—limited awareness of resources for voters and the unpredictable postal delivery of absentee ballots—continue to pose challenges. DOD-commissioned studies and post-election survey results indicate that there is limited awareness of FVAP's resources among military and overseas voters. A 2015 study found, for example, that the online availability of blank ballots led to one of the most significant improvements in military and overseas absentee voting. At the same time, the full benefits of the improvement had not been realized because voters remained unaware that ballots could be requested...

Contractor Sick Leave, Congress’ Self-Imposed Pay Freeze, Military Pay and More

It’s been about six months since President Obama signed an executive order guaranteeing federal contractors paid sick leave, and the haggling over how that rule will be implemented has started. The Labor Department’s proposed regulation on Executive Order 13706 is “broad in its application, overly prescriptive in its implementation, and overly punitive in its enforcement,” said the Professional Services Council, an industry group, in a statement late last week.

When the executive order came out in September 2015, PSC contended that while it supports paid sick leave for federal contractors, many already provide that benefit and they require flexibility to administer that and other types of leave as they see fit. The group advanced a similar argument against the draft regulations last week, noting the new rules would impose extra compliance costs on contractors.   

“First the EO, and now the proposed rule, have turned a straightforward mandate to provide certain employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked on covered contracts into a detailed and intrusive compliance and enforcement regime,” stated PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin. “The proposed rule dictates the minutiae of compliance without regard for variations in covered contractors...

Another Bonus Ban, Feds’ ‘Golden Parachute’ Pensions and More

Congress is always looking for new ways to ban bonuses for federal employees, it seems.

Weeks after House appropriators unveiled a measure to prohibit performance awards for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, a lawmaker put forward legislation to ban bonuses for Internal Revenue Service workers.

Blocking the extra pay could prove to be just a threat, however; the bill -- introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., would only outlaw the awards until the IRS issues a “comprehensive customer service strategy.” 

Until such a plan is reviewed and approved by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency “may not pay a bonus, award or similar cash payment,” according to the proposal. 

No word on whether the employees writing that plan will be entitled to an especially generous paycheck. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill Wednesday as part of a package of legislation to hold the IRS more "accountable" for its performance. 

In other parts of the government, employees themselves are sounding the alarm about colleagues receiving too large a payout. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers sent a letter to Congress about executives at the Tennessee Valley Authority receiving average pensions of nearly...

Financial Advice in Your Best Interest, Workplace Flexibility and More

The Labor Department on Wednesday finalized a rule designed to ensure that those saving for retirement get investment advice that’s actually in their best interest—not the best interest of the adviser.

The final rule has been years in the making. The department received a great deal of feedback after it proposed a new rule last April, and “many changes were made to clarify, streamline, and simplify the proposed rule and proposed exemptions while still adhering to the North Star of an enforceable best interest standard for people receiving advice about their retirement savings,” Labor said.  

For those who want to see how the new conflict-of-interest final rule, which requires those providing retirement investment advice to abide by a “fiduciary” standard, compares with the proposed rule, the department has provided a chart illustrating the changes.

According to a White House statement: “These rules will save affected middle class families tens of thousands of dollars for their retirement over a lifetime of savings. And they’ll level the playing field for the many good actors, so that retirement advisers will compete based on the quality of advice they give.”

Federal labor groups were in agreement. “Release of this rule is...

Washington Teleworks, Benefits Changes, Defense Hiring Freeze, and More

A two-day global nuclear security summit starts in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, promising commuting headaches, so the government is encouraging federal employees to telework.

The event, which convenes leaders from 50 countries and four international organizations in downtown Washington on March 31 and April 1, will cause traffic congestion and will affect mass transit. “Federal employees who work in downtown D.C. should expect significant commuting delays and travel disruptions,” the Office of Personnel Management told agencies.  

If employees can telework, then agencies should allow workers to do that or use other flexibilities such as alternative work schedules, annual leave, leave without pay or compensatory time off, OPM said.

Click here for more information about the summithere for information about street closures, and here for details on how the summit affects the Metro rail and bus system.

Also on April 1, new reimbursement rates for autism benefits under TRICARE take effect. Defense proposed cuts of up to 15 percent for 2016 reimbursement rates for Applied Behavior Analysis, a popular therapy for children with disorders on the autism spectrum. ABA can help increase an autistic child’s I.Q., language abilities and coping skills. 

“We do not expect these...