From Law to Policy

By Tammy Flanagan

July 31, 2009

It's been a busy summer on Capitol Hill when it comes to federal retirement benefits, with several bills working their way through the legislative process. But that's just the beginning. Once Congress changes a policy, the executive branch must set the rules in place to implement them. Let's take a look at how that process is currently playing out with respect to different kinds of benefits.

Thrift Savings Plan

After a bill affecting the TSP is signed, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board must evaluate and implement the changes. That involves communicating with the federal agencies that administer employee contributions to the plan through various payroll systems. Payroll changes and record-keeping changes must be made. In addition, forms and educational materials need to be updated and made available to employees.

Let's look at one example: On June 22, President Obama signed H.R. 1256, which included several changes to the TSP:

In order for all these changes to take place, a lot has to happen. The only modification that is being implemented right away is the immediate agency contributions. The TSP Board has issued a bulletin to agencies providing instructions on implementing the new policy.

Some of the remaining changes could be a year or two away from becoming a reality. They will require complex computer system upgrades, evaluation of the impact on other processes and creation of educational materials to explain the changes to employees.

Other Benefits

Government Executive's Alex M. Parker recently summarized other legislation pending this summer that will have an impact on federal employees if passed. The changes include:

If and when these proposals become federal law, they'll have to be implemented through the policy and regulatory process. In many cases, rules must be published in the Federal Register to give members of the public the chance to comment on them.

If a proposed change will affect the way federal benefits are administered, the Office of Personnel Management must prepare a benefits administration letter to inform agency personnel offices how to implement the change. Those offices are then responsible for notifying employees of the change through any means they deem appropriate. This can include e-mails, training seminars, posters and mailings. OPM will inform retirees if a change will impact them.

Only after this process takes place will employees be able to benefit from changes to laws that affect the way retirement benefits are administered. So be patient. You can keep up with what is happening to the laws that govern your benefits right here at And if you're nearing retirement, consider attending a pre-retirement seminar to get up-to-the minute information.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area.

By Tammy Flanagan

July 31, 2009