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

Reducing Costs at FEHBP, Civil Service Reform and More

The Office of Personnel Management is encouraging insurers to find ways to reduce costs for plans in the health care program for federal employees.

In its annual letter to Federal Employees Health Benefits Program carriers on Jan. 23, OPM suggested a number of ways that insurers could change their offerings, or provide new types of plans.

“The Office of Personnel Management has developed an agency strategic objective to improve the quality of health care received by enrollees in FEHB plans, increase the affordability of FEHB plans, and enhance the portfolio of available FEHB plans to increase the proportion that offer high quality at an affordable cost,” wrote Alan Spielman, OPM’s director of health care and insurance. “[Effective] plan design is key to providing high-quality, cost-effective health care.”

Among the ideas OPM floated were adjusting cost-sharing for high-value and low-value benefits “to help ensure members are getting the most value,” implementing tiered provider networks including options with reduced cost sharing, and reducing cost sharing when members act to manage chronic conditions or obtain higher-quality care through “creative provider or vender partnerships.”

OPM also suggested insurers employ online portals and other communication tools to improve enrollee engagement and support with decision-making...

Back Pay for Contractors, First Blended Retirement Enrollment Numbers, and More

Although the government shutdown is over and Congress has approved back pay for federal employees who were furloughed between Saturday and Monday, one Democratic lawmaker is pushing for a similar measure for contractors.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., a non-voting member of the House, introduced the Low-Wage Federal Contractor Employee Back Pay Act (H.R. 4875) Monday, which would compensate contractors who provide retail, food, custodial or security services to federal agencies for time spent on unpaid leave due to the shutdown.

Norton said in a letter to colleagues to solicit cosponsors that shutdowns of any length can be particularly difficult for federal contractors, who often are paid less and receive fewer benefits than people on the federal payroll.

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“Many federal contract workers earn little more than minimum wage and receive few, if any, benefits,” she wrote. “While some are unionized with a little better wage, all are the lowest-paid workers in the federal government and should not be punished because Congress has failed to do its job to keep the government funded.”

If enacted, the bill would ensure compensation for federal contractors in...

Pay and Benefits in a Shutdown, Expanded Naval Paternity Leave and More

Officials with the U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that the service branch will more than double the amount of paid leave provided to sailors whose spouses have given birth, according to a news report.

As early as next month, the Navy will increase the number of days a sailor can receive in paid time off for paternity leave from 10 to 21, Federal News Radio reported. Vice Adm. Robert Burke, who is in charge of the Navy’s personnel issues, announced the new policy speaking to sailors and their families in Japan.

The new policy was enabled by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed branches of the military to adopt up to 21 days of paid leave for service members, although it did not require it. The Navy is the first branch to implement the new authority laid out in the NDAA.

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Meanwhile, the civilian federal workforce is, for the third time in two months, bracing for the potential impact of a government shutdown. Congress is expected to vote this week on another four-week continuing resolution ahead of a Friday night deadline to...

An Agency Curtails Telework, Annual Charitable Giving Campaign Ends and More

The Agriculture Department issued a new rule last week that will significantly reduce employees’ ability to work remotely.

According to a departmental regulation released Jan. 4 by the agency’s Office of Human Resources Management, feds approved for telework now will only be able to work remotely for two days per pay period, or roughly four times per month.

The new rule scales back a policy implemented during the Obama administration allowing unlimited telework for Agriculture employees.

“Telework has the ability to produce tangible savings and other benefits, but its use must be balanced to ensure there are no negative impacts on the ability of the department to achieve its mission and provide high quality customer service,” officials said in the regulation.

The rule takes effect immediately, with a 30-day phase-in process. The policies and procedures surrounding the eligibility and approval process for telework were not altered in the new regulation.

There are just two days left before the annual charity giving drive at federal agencies reaches a close, and organizers are encouraging a round of last-minute donations.

The 2017 Combined Federal Campaign, which began Oct. 2, allows federal employees to donate to a variety of charities directly through their...

TSP Shows Modest Gains, Blended Retirement Goes Live and More

Monday marked the launch of the federal government’s new blended retirement system for military personnel, and officials at the government's 401(k)-style retirement savings plan have developed a wealth of new material to acquaint service members with the program.

Beginning Jan. 1, all new members of the military are automatically enrolled in the blended retirement system, which provides an employer match to Thrift Savings Plan investments in addition to a less generous defined-benefit pension plan. Current service members have until the end of 2018 to decide whether to opt into the program.

TSP has posted a video on YouTube to provide an overview to members of the military, and it has published two physical booklets to help service members to understand and best utilize the retirement savings program. For current personnel weighing whether to make the switch to blended, officials recommended a video from last summer, as well as an FAQ comparing blended to the standard retirement plan.

The TSP's various investment portfolios all ended 2017 with modest gains. Leading the way, as it did for much of the year, was the I Fund with its international stocks, which grew 1.60 percent in December. The...