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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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Pay Changes for Defense Civilians, a Request for a Time and Attendance Study, and More

In a memo to agency leaders last week, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon highlighted a number of changes and extensions to civilian employee pay programs at the Defense Department, all of which were a result of the National Defense Authorization Act signed last fall.

The Reserve Income Replacement Program, a Defense program to reimburse reservists who have been on repeated or extended active duty deployments for income lost while not at their day job, will now run until Dec. 31, 2018. The extension does not apply to differential payments, a similar but separate program for reservists who also are federal workers.

Also extended until the end of 2018 is the authority for an agency head to waive premium pay caps for qualifying civilians working overseas. In order to be considered for a pay cap waiver, a federal employee must work overseas either in an area under the responsibility of the U.S. Central Command, or a region that was once under Central Command but now is part of U.S. Africa Command’s responsibility. Additionally, the pay cap after a waiver will increase to $243,500 for 2018.

Pon said that OPM does not plan to issue new...

GAO Improperly Distributed Overtime for Some; New Move to Disclose Federal Bonuses

The inspector general at the Government Accountability Office reported this week that the watchdog agency improperly spent nearly $80,000 on unscheduled overtime pay for criminal investigators who did not qualify for it, and questioned the need to authorize overtime at all.

In fiscal 2017, GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service employed eight criminal investigators, who conduct some investigative activities for the agency as well as manage its FraudNet hotline. In fiscal 2017, all eight were certified to receive Law Enforcement Availability Pay, a program that authorizes premium pay for federal investigators who are often required to work excessive or unusual hours.

But the agency IG found that the vast majority of the hours authorized for LEAP pay were for overtime availability, rather than hours actually worked. And five of the eight investigators improperly were authorized to receive LEAP pay due to a mistake in how GAO’s timecard system calculated overtime availability needs.

According to the report, GAO spent $149,026 on LEAP pay for the eight investigators in fiscal 2017. But of the 4,973 LEAP hours reported by FAIS, only 21 percent were reported as unscheduled overtime hours actually worked. The remaining 79 percent were classified...

Trump Administration Targets Federal Compensation, Telework

The Trump administration’s new management agenda, released earlier this week, has significant implications for federal pay and benefits.

The agenda frames the issue by noting that “it is important to appropriately compensate personnel based on mission needs and labor market dynamics,” something the existing compensation system fails to do. The document then repeats the fiscal 2019 budget proposal to forgo an across-the-board pay increase while realigning “incentives by enhancing performance-based pay and slowing the frequency of tenure-based step increases.”

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The White House has asked lawmakers to create a $1 billion “interagency workforce fund” in fiscal 2018 for “targeted pay incentives” for employees. To that end, the Office of Management and Budget said it will work with Congress to overhaul statutes and regulations in need of updating.

In addition to pay reforms, the management agenda also reiterated a proposal to alter retirement benefits. Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon said that requiring feds to wait five years to vest into their pensions “just doesn’t make sense” for the modern workforce. The administration has proposed moving away from pensions altogether and toward a defined-contribution...

A Student Loan Repayment Inquiry, a New Travel Ban for Feds and More

The Office of Personnel Management is asking agencies to compile their annual reports on student loan repayments made on behalf of federal employees by the end of this month, including an analysis of the programs’ effectiveness.

OPM Director Jeff Pon sent a memo to departments Tuesday outlining the requirements for their student loan repayment reports for the 2017 calendar year. By law, agencies must submit reports each year on student loan repayment programs designed to recruit and retain highly qualified personnel, including information on the number of federal workers receiving the benefit, their job classification and the cost of the program.

Additionally, Pon, who was confirmed to his post by the Senate last week, solicited insight from agency leadership on the effectiveness of their respective student loan programs and ideas that could improve similar programs across the federal government.

“We also invite you to share any additional information regarding best practices, lessons learned, program effectiveness, metrics used to measure program success, business case evaluation factors, program impediments, or other relevant details about your agency’s use of student loan repayments as a recruitment or retention tool,” Pon wrote. “In addition, we encourage you to identify any ways to improve the...

Retirement Backlog Continues to Grow, Compensation Fund in Budget Won’t Be for Raises, and More

The annual flood of federal employee retirement claims spilled into February this year, as the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement backlog topped the 24,000 mark.

There were 13,290 new retirement claims filed last month, which marks a slight decrease from the 14,590 requests made in January, when the number of people leaving the federal civil service reaches its peak most years. But that figure is well above the total for the same time period in 2017, when only 9,114 people filed for retirement.

Although OPM increased the number of claims it processed last month, completing 9,532 requests over January’s 8,638, it barely made a dent in the backlog, which increased by nearly 4,000 to a total of 24,225. The agency’s monthly average processing time decreased from 63 days in January to 46 days. 

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The higher-than-usual February figures come after a month filled with gloomy policy proposals affecting federal employees. President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request included a pay freeze for all civilian feds, as well as a number of significant cuts to retirement...