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IRS, CBP employees could get back pay tomorrow, leaders say

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Employees at the IRS and Customs and Border Protection should get at least some shutdown-related back pay at soon as tomorrow, senior leaders at the two agencies said today.

“You will receive your back and regular pay a full four days earlier than Oct. 28, the day most people would receive pay,” Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in an email to employees. In a similar note, Assistant CBP Commissioner Eugene Schied said that employees there should see retroactive salary payments show up “as early as Thursday.”

The two agencies, whose combined workforces total almost 150,000, are both paid through the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents workers at both IRS and  CBP, is “grateful” that agency leaders “made this a priority and that employees at the agency and at the payment centers worked diligently to get this done,” Colleen Kelley, the union’s president, said in a statement. As early as tomorrow, CBP workers should receive back pay for Pay Period 19, which includes the first week of the shutdown, Kelley said, while a deposit for Pay Period 20 should follow on Monday, Oct. 28.

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Many feds get shutdown-related back pay ahead of schedule

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Thousands of federal workers got a welcome arrival in their bank accounts today: An ahead-of-schedule deposit for back pay owed from the partial government shutdown.

While the Obama administration had said that the money would show up in employees’ next paychecks after the shutdown ended last week, the Interior’s Department’s Business Center scheduled an “off-cycle” payment today for most Interior employees, along with many of those at NASA, the National Science Foundation and 39 other agencies who also get their paychecks through the center, spokesman Mike Fernandez said in an email.

The payments came one week ahead of the next normal biweekly pay date, Oct. 29, Fernandez said, and represented an effort “to provide retroactive pay as quickly as possible.” The center, which last month suffered a processing glitch that delayed some paychecks, handles payroll for about 240,000 employees.

Are you a federal employee without health insurance?

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For all the talk of gold-plated federal pay and benefits, the American Federation of Government Employees estimates that some 250,000 feds don’t enroll in the Federal Employees Health  Benefits Program (FEHBP) because they can’t afford the premiums.

If you fall in that category, Federal Times wants to get your view on whether the Affordable Care Act (widely known as “Obamacare”) will help provide coverage or not. To weigh in,  please call Staff Writer Sean Reilly at 703-750-8684 or email him at sreilly@federaltimes.com. Thanks very much!

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Cobert’s confirmation for OMB job applauded

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Beth Cobert’s arrival at the Office of Management and Budget is getting a particularly warm welcome from Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer. In a Twitter message this afternoon, VanRoekel hailed Cobert ‘s confirmation as OMB’s deputy director for management, noting that he can now go back to being “full-time US CIO!”

Cobert, who comes from consulting firm McKinsey & Co., was sworn in today, five days after winning Senate confirmation. She replaces Jeff Zients, who stepped down at the end of April; on top of his day job, VanRoekel had been filling in as deputy management director since May. Also applauding Cobert’s confirmation was Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Throughout the executive branch, the deputy management director plays a “critical leadership role” in  “helping to guide agencies through these challenging financial times and promoting long-term management reforms that will deliver both better results and savings for taxpayers,” Carper said in a statement today. Cobert’s “private sector experience has prepared her well for this role,” he said, “and I look forward to working with her as she helps promote better management throughout our government.”

For anyone who’s keeping score, incidentally, this is the first time since January 2012 that the three top posts (director, deputy director for budget and deputy director for management) at OMB have all been filled by Senate-confirmed appointees.

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TSP Board website now accessible in mobile format

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Attention, Thrift Savings Plan participants: You can now check your online account information at tsp.gov more easily via smartphone.

Although the site was previously available via phone, the mobile version is designed to work with Android and iOS operating systems to provide an “optimal viewing experience,” the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said in a news release today. (And there’s no need to download an app.)

The board actually launched the mobile version Sept. 30, but held off from an announcement because of the partial government shutdown that began the next day, spokeswoman Kim Weaver said. The word is apparently getting around, though. Just in the last week, there have been more than 60,000 smartphone log-ons to the mobile version of tsp.gov, according to the release.

 

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OPM issues instructions on furlough-related pay and benefits issues

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As agencies come back to life, there’s a lot of housekeeping to attend to. In guidance released this morning, the Office of Personnel Management tackles a topic of interest to any fed furloughed during the 16-day partial government shutdown: How agencies should handle retirement contributions, “use or lose” annual leave and other complications. Check it out!

Shutdown over: Federal employees should report to work Thursday morning. Back pay coming soon.

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The 16-day partial government shutdown is officially over as President Obama has signed a stop-gap spending bill, Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell said in a message released early Thursday morning.

“This evening, the President signed a continuing resolution that reopens the federal government and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance to all departments and agencies to resume operations in a prompt and orderly manner,” Burwell said.  “In the days ahead, we will work closely with departments and agencies to make the transition back to full operating status as smooth as possible. This has been a particularly challenging time for Federal employees and I want to thank our nation’s dedicated civil servants for their continued commitment to serving the American people.”

Feds will receive back pay in their next paychecks, a Burwell spokesman said in a follow-up email. Agencies are “strongly encouraged” to use telework and other ”workplace flexibilities to ensure a smooth transition back to work for employees,” OPM said in a statement on its website.

The bill, approved today by the House and Senate, will fund the government through Jan. 15.

The legislation would also allow a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase for federal employees, according to a joint news release from Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. The release does not make clear whether added steps will be needed to ensure that the proposed raise takes effect. Here is a cut-and-paste version of the release:

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski, Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, today announced that the bipartisan legislation to end the Tea Party Republican shutdown and reopen the federal government allows a 1 percent pay increase for federal employees and ensures that federal employees furloughed through no fault of their own receive their full pay.

“I’m proud to have fought on the front lines for federal employee pay as hard as federal employees fight on the front lines each and every day for America,” Senator Mikulski said. “The promise of a modest pay raise and back pay for furloughed government employees are good first steps in recognizing the value of federal workers. They have been the targets of unending attacks. They’ve been furloughed, laid off and locked out through no fault of their own. I believe federal employees should never be scapegoats in fights over deficit reduction.”

 

“The government shutdown was a real punch in the gut to federal workers who were already reeling from multi-year pay freezes, sequestration cuts and furloughs, as well as threats to health and retirement benefits. These hardworking public servants did not cause our economic crisis, but they paid a heavy price. I’m proud we were able to fulfill our promise to make them whole again with back pay and finally break through the pay freeze with a modest adjustment for next year,” said Senator Cardin. “As they return to doing their work on behalf of the American people, I will continue to fight to keep federal workers from being pawns in every budget battle that lies ahead.”

 

As Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski fought to ensure the final agreement to reopen the federal government would permit the President to implement his plan for a 1 percent pay raise in January, 2014. Senator Cardin introduced the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, which was cosponsored by Senators Mikulski, Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The Cardin bill, which was included in the final agreement approved Wednesday, guaranteed that federal workers who were furloughed because of the lapse in federal funding or government shutdown would receive their full pay.

 

Federal employee pay has been frozen for three years with no cost-of-living adjustments, leaving families stressed and stretched. They have been subjected to rolling furloughs since March due to sequester and have also been required to pay 2.3 percent more from their salaries into their retirement plans.

 

Maryland is home to the headquarters of 20 major federal agencies, from the Social Security Administration to the Food and Drug Administration. More than 130,000 federal employees live and work in Maryland, serving the nation and serving the world.

 

The bipartisan legislation passed today funds the government through January 15, 2014 and extends our nation’s debt limit through February 7, 2014. It also starts the budget conference that Democrats have been fighting to start for the past six months so Congress can come together on a long-term solution. The House and the Senate will name conferees and the agreement will call for the budget conference to finish by December 13th. The legislation now moves to the White House to be signed into law by President Obama.

 

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Shutdown Watch-Day 16: Could agencies reopen soon?

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Good morning! For federal employees, it might be hard to imagine an upside to a wild day on Capitol Hill that began with House Republicans singing “Amazing Grace” and ended with warnings from Fitch credit rating agency that it was looking closely at downgrading the United States’ creditworthiness.

But yesterday’s chaos could also presage an end to the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1. The reason is simple: Any deal to reopen agencies is tied to raising the nation’s debt ceiling and lawmakers could make real headway on the latter front today.

After the House GOP leadership was unable to corral enough votes to pass its own bill by last night, the action has shifted back to the Senate where lawmakers have resumed work on a bipartisan deal that would include a continuing resolution running until mid-January (anyone remember when Congress used to pass full-year appropriations bills?) and raise the debt ceiling until February.  The full Senate could vote as early as today on the package, according to The New York Times. Expectations are that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will have to follow suit and allow a vote.

“It’s all over; we’ll take the Senate deal,” an anonymous House aide told National Review, a conservative news outlet. Under a best-case scenario, that probably means feds could be back on the job as early as Friday.

Of course, given the events of the last few days, FedLine has to caution that lawmakers could shred this script as well.

The heat is on, however, as the Obama administration continues to warn that the nation will exhaust its last dribs of borrowing authority by tomorrow. If that happens, the federal government will soon be unable to pay all of its bills, among which are salaries and other compensation for 2.1 million federal employees. What happens then is unclear; while officials with the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management held a conference call with federal labor unions and other employee groups yesterday, they punted the question to the Treasury Department, participants said.

“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters in a separate conference call when asked how federal employees could be affected by a debt ceiling breach.  “We still have to get the federal workforce back [to work] and paid.” Also unclear is whether all contractors will be fully paid, he added.

In other news, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sees at least one possible silver lining to the shutdown: “The increased awareness of the American people to the importance of the work you do and the value that all Americans receive from their investment in you,” Jewell told Interior employees in a message posted online by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Any major developments we’ve missed, particularly in regard to agency news? Let us know with an email to shutdownstories@federaltimes.com.

 

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GovLoop launches morale-builder for non-essential feds

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Let’s face it: Being designated a non-essential (non-excepted is the officially preferred, if seldom used phrasing) federal employee during a government shutdown can be a bummer, particularly since it means a no-pay furlough.

To buck up feds’ spirits, the online networking site GovLoop has started a “You Are Essential” campaign that hands out free stickers and suggests that participants mobilize their Facebook pages in support. As of late Monday, almost 500 people had signed up, GovLoop founder Steve Ressler said in an email. You can find more information on the campaign here.

 

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Shutdown Watch-Day 15. It’s white-knuckle time.

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Good morning! Let’s start the day with a cheery observation often attributed to the 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson: “Nothing concentrates a man’s mind more than the prospect of being hanged in the morning.”

Figuratively speaking, the same seems to be true of Congress. The specter of impending economic calamity, combined with rising public disapproval, (particularly for Republicans), over the partial government shutdown, appears to have prodded senators to close in on yet another stop-gap budget deal that could have just as easily been reached a month ago.

As reported by Defense News, a sister publication of Federal Times, Senate leaders could unveil a tentative agreement as early as this morning that would reopen agencies at current spending levels until Jan. 15, while raising the nation’s borrowing limit to last until February. On the budget front, the idea is to give lawmakers and the Obama administration three months to dicker over broader concerns, such as easing or canceling the next round of sequester-related cuts that will likely take effect in January. At this point, it’s unclear whether the package will include a provision ensuring back pay for hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers.

A Senate vote on the agreement could come Thursday. That’s also the day that the government will exhaust its borrowing authority, threatening a potentially ruinous debt default, according to the administration. And assuming the deal is approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate, it faces a rough ride in the GOP-run House, where some lawmakers have not given up on hopes of forcing the White House to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The overarching question is whether House Speaker John  Boehner, R-Ohio, would be willing to pass the compromise package with Democratic votes if he can’t bring enough members of his own party along. So far, Boehner’s not saying.

A key off-stage player will be the stock market. If major market indices take a dive in the next day or two, that could ramp up pressure on lawmakers to give the agreement final approval sooner rather than later. (And even Tea Party loyalists have investment portfolios, after all.)

Any major developments we’ve missed, particularly in regard to agency news? Let us know with an email to shutdownstories@federaltimes.com.

 

 

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