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Tired of watching the Redskins lose? Check out OPM’s updated bad weather policy.

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YouTube Preview ImageAttention, Washington, D.C.-area feds: With the scene outside looking a lot more frightful than delightful Sunday afternoon, what better time to tear yourself away from the Redskins debacle and get back up to speed on dismissal and closure policies in case of bad weather or other emergencies. Last week, the Office of Personnel Management held a webinar (see above) on the subject and here’s a memo from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta: http://tinyurl.com/my7wjkf. For those who really want to go hard-core, this is the link to OPM’s updated 35-page manual on the subject: http://tinyurl.com/lslzns9.

It’s still too early to say what’s in store for tomorrow, but in a Tweet late Sunday evening, OPM officials said they will announce the operating status for D.C.-area offices by 4 a.m. Monday. As soon as we at FedLine hear something, we’ll let you know.

[This post has been updated as of 11:27 Sunday evening.]

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Archuleta sworn in as OPM director

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Katherine Archuleta officially became the 10th director of the Office of Personnel Management this morning following a private swearing-in ceremony, the agency said in a news release. Archuleta, confirmed by the Senate last Wednesday to a four-year term, began the day  by greeting employees in the lobby of OPM headquarters.

“OPM touches so many lives and has such a significant impact on government service,” Archuleta said in the release. “I look forward to getting to know the many dedicated, hard-working men and women who serve the public every day.”

Archuleta replaces John Berry, who left in April en route to a new gig as ambassador to Australia. Filling in as director was OPM General Counsel Elaine Kaplan, who officiated at this morning’s swearing-in ceremony, attended by Archuleta’s husband, Edmundo Gonzales.

Among other activities, Archuleta will spend the week meeting with senior staff and getting briefed on various issues facing the agency.

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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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Today’s holiday just another furlough day for many feds

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Officially, today (i.e., Oct. 14, marking Columbus Day) remains on the books as a paid federal holiday. But because of the partial government shutdown, only a limited number of federal employees are scheduled to be paid for it.

Even employees deemed “excepted” (or as many feds put it, “essential”) during the shutdown must take today as an unpaid furlough day unless required to report to work, according to Office of Personnel Management instructions (check out pp. 12 and 13). As OPM puts it in a helpful question-and-answer format:

“Q: Will an ‘excepted’ employee who does not work on a holiday that occurs during a shutdown furlough be paid for the holiday?
A: No. An ‘excepted’ employee who does not work on a holiday will be placed in a furloughstatus for the holiday and will not receive pay for a holiday that occurs during a shutdown furlough unless authorized by subsequent legislation.”
How many people are working today is unclear, although the number is presumably pretty small. An OPM spokesman referred the question to the Office of Management and Budget’s press office, which (assuming it’s open) did not immediately reply to an email.
As Federal Times has previously reported, two bills to assure back pay to furloughed federal employees have unanimously passed the House; both are awaiting Senate action.

 

Government shutdown begins

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The closing of a vast swath of government operations is now under way as this Office of Management and Budget memo makes clear. The U.S. Agriculture Department, meanwhile, has wasted no time taking down its website. The Office of Personnel Management’s site, however, is still live, with a page with guidance on everything you probably never wanted to know about employee furloughs.

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What’s your take on the FEHBP 2014 health plan rates?

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Hi everyone:

As most Federal Times readers probably know, the Office of Personnel Management  yesterday announced 2014 rates for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, both for health plans as well as dental and vision. In comparison with trends from just a couple of years ago, next year’s increases are relatively modest, but–as federal employees unions were quick to point out–they are still increases as a time when many feds have lost income because of furloughs and everyone remains under the pay freeze now in place for almost three years.

We want to get your feedback. Are the increases for your health plan manageable or will it be tough to make the additional payments? Or is the impact somewhere in between? If you’re interested in talking to us for an upcoming story, please send me an email at sreilly@federaltimes.com and let me know how best to reach you.

Thanks!

Sean Reilly

Staff Writer

Federal Times

One man, two wives and an annuity

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Nearly a decade after he died, the complicated marital turnabouts of a U.S. Forest Service employee named Don King gave rise Friday to a ruling by the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

First, some background. Try to follow along, it’s complicated.

In 1967, King married a woman named Diana. They divorced in 1980. They remarried in 1981. Then, they divorced again 18 months later. And yet they held themselves out to be married for years afterward, living in the same house, keeping joint accounts and even celebrating their (original) anniversary.

But in 2002, Don moved out. He married another woman, Kathryn. Before he died in 2004, Don designated Kathryn to receive his lump sum accrued annuity.

That’s when things got messy.

Both Kathryn and Diana claimed to be Don’s wife and, after  litigation, the pair struck a deal.

Diana agreed to pay Kathryn $50,000 to resolve Don’s medical and funeral expenses. And Kathryn agreed that if she got Don’s annuity payments, the money would belong to Diana.

Then, Kathryn changed her mind. And the matter ended up in court again.  Meanwhile, she applied to the Office of Personnel Management for survivor annuity funds. OPM made payments from 2004 to 2007.

But after a court ruled the settlement deal enforceable, Diana applied for survivor payments, too, prompting OPM to revoke Kathryn’s payments.

It hardly ends end there. Along came settlement No. 2, in which Kathryn released any claim to any payment Diana owed–including for Don’s expenses–while Diana waived “all claims to any future payment” that Kathryn might receive. Kathryn also turned over more than $40,000 that she received from OPM into a trust account for Diana.

Meanwhile, back at OPM, officials eventually found Diana was entitled survivor benefits. And then OPM went after Kathryn, seeking to recover the money she’d received. Kathryn didn’t deny she received the money, but argued she’d already transferred the money to Diana.

OPM didn’t back down. Once more, the matter ended up in litigation. Ultimately, Kathryn couldn’t receive a waiver from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

But, in a ruling one would cautiously assume to be the last word, the Court of Appeals for the Federal  Circuit Friday overturned the MSPB.

The court found, first of all, that Kathryn wasn’t at fault, as she was collecting benefits at a time when she thought she was entitled to them. It also ruled that she deserved a waiver, saying  she’d aimed all along to transfer Don’s retirement benefits back to Diana.

“Because the Board failed to address the substantial evidence demonstrating that recovery of the overpayment to Kathryn was against equity and good conscience, we reverse,” the court ruled.

Like the Don himself, the case is pretty complicated. So you read the ruling for yourself here.

OPM administering new benefits survey

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The Office of Personnel Management is again asking feds what they think of their benefits, according a recently posted memo on the agency’s web site.

OPM will be administering the Federal Employee Benefits Survey this summer by email to a random sample of workers, acting OPM Director Elaine Kaplan said in the Aug. 13 heads-up.  The survey was last done two years ago after traditional benefits questions were dropped in 2010 from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Completing the benefits survey should take about 15 minutes and doing it during work hours is OK, Kaplan indicated.

The survey’s chief purpose is to measure benefits’ “importance, adequacy and value” to make sure that they mesh with employee needs and best practices, Kaplan wrote. The results will be reported government-wide and used for policy and educational purposes.

 

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NARFE debuts retirement ticker to show federal brain drain

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How to dramatize the largely hidden loss of experience and expertise as federal workers call it quits?

Here’s the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association’s solution:  On its web site, the group has built an online ticker  that seeks to track the impact of that exodus down to the hour. Based on Office of Personnel Management data, NARFE calculates that the nation has lost an average of 10,000 years of federal worker experience every day since Jan. 1. It also suggests that the current political and fiscal climate is not inconsequential.

“Sure, people retire,” the group says on the site. “They deserve to. But why are we losing waves of valuable federal workers in 2013? Could it be because of proposals in Washington that freeze federal worker pay year after year, furlough workers with families and threaten to tear down the benefits that federal workers earned?”

What do you think, readers? Could it?

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Senate panel to vote this morning on nominees to lead OPM, Census Bureau

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Two Obama administration candidates for nuts-and-bolts jobs are scheduled to get confirmation votes at 10 a.m. today from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

First up, according to a committee advisory, is the nomination of John Thompson to head the Census Bureau. Thompson, who previously worked for the bureau as far back as the 1970s in such posts as associate director for the decennial census, is currently president and CEO of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, according a White House bio.

The Senate panel is also supposed to vote on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta for director of Office of Personnel Management. Archuleta, who has held an array of jobs in and out of government, helped run Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and also spent about two years from 2009 to 2011 as chief of staff for the Labor Department.

Confirmation hearings for both Thompson and Archuleta produced no fireworks, so presumably this morning’s votes will be similarly routine. For anyone wanting to watch the action online, however, here’s a link to the committee’s site. Assuming that the two win the panel’s approval, the only thing standing between them and another stint of public service is a vote by the full Senate.

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