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 email@example.com and let me know how best to reach you.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Federal employees found to have violated the Hatch Act’s prohibitions on partisan politicking would face penalties ranging from a reprimand to a five-year ban from federal employment under proposed changes published in today’s Federal Register.
Up to now, the only sanction has been automatic firing, unless the three-member Merit Systems Protection Board unanimously agreed to impose a 30-day unpaid suspension. As a result, agencies were sometimes reluctant to pursue minor infractions. The Office of Personnel Management’s proposed changes follow up on the framework laid out in the Hatch Act Modernization Act, which Congress approved last December in part to give the board more flexibility.
Under the proposal, violators could face the following sanctions: Removal, reduction-in-grade, debarment from federal employment for up to five years, suspension, reprimand or a $1,000 fine. The MSPB would also no longer have to vote unanimously to impose lesser penalties.
OPM is taking public comments on the proposal through Sept. 23.
The Office of Personnel Management may be little known to the general public, but perhaps no agency matters more to some 2.7 million federal civil service employees and U.S. Postal Service workers.
So, they might want to keep an ear out Tuesday, when a Senate panel has scheduled a hearing on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta to become the next OPM director. The job has been vacant since April when John Berry (since selected for the Australia ambassadorship) resigned just before his four-year term was up. Filling in is OPM General Counsel Elaine Kaplan, but she’s been nominated for a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Obama gave Archuleta, who helped run his 2012 re-election campaign, the nod as his choice for OPM director in May; the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled her Tuesday confirmation hearing for 3:30 p.m. If confirmed, Archuleta would be the first Latina to head OPM, according to the White House. Here, pasted from the official selection announcement, is a rundown of her career:
“Katherine Archuleta most recently served as National Political Director for Obama for America, a position she held from 2011 to 2012. Prior to this, Ms. Archuleta served as Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2009 to 2011. From October 2005 to May 2009, she served as a Senior Adviser on Policy and Initiatives for the City and County of Denver, Colorado. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation from 2002 to 2005. Ms. Archuleta was the Director of Professional Services for Davis, Graham and Stubbs, LLP from 2000 to 2002 and Co-Founder and Principal of the Center for Regional and Neighborhood Action from 1997 to 2000. She served as Senior Policy Adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy in 1997. From 1993 to 1997, Ms. Archuleta served at the U.S. Department of Transportation, first as Deputy Chief of Staff and then as Chief of Staff. She served as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver from 1992 to 1993. Prior to that, she worked in a number of roles in the Office of the Mayor of Denver from 1983 to 1991, including Deputy Chief of Staff. Ms. Archuleta received a B.A. from Metropolitan State College and a M.Ed. from the University of Northern Colorado.”
Remember that Office of Personnel Management proposal—buried deep in its fiscal 2014 budget request—to begin charging charities a fee in fiscal 2015 to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign?
Well, forget it, at least for now.
“It was just an idea that was being considered,” Mark Lambert, OPM associate director for merit system accountability and compliance, said in an interview yesterday following a congressional hearing. Asked whether the proposal is now defunct, Lambert said yes.
The proposal, which was intended to cover OPM’s costs for running the campaign, is distinct from the agency’s plan to begin charging charities an application fee as part of a broader overhaul of the CFC, Lambert said. That plan is under review; OPM will work with stakeholders to determine what the fee amount will be, Lambert said.
OPM officials had previously declined to comment on the fee proposal in the 2014 budget request. Within the CFC community, however, the proposal had caused some head-scratching because the agency claimed to have received “legislative permission” to charge the fee. Queried on that point during yesterday’s hearing, Lambert said the claim was included “in error.”
“It was just some language that was put in there,” he added afterwards, “but should have been stricken before it was finalized.”
Ramon Davila is one name in a growing list.
He’s among the nearly two dozen federal background check investigators to face criminal charges in recent years for falsifying his work on investigations performed on contractors and employees seeking government clearances.
But more than year after charging Davila, the Justice Department only just learned that he had a troubling past that went unnoticed during his own background investigation.
It turns out, officials at another federal law enforcement agency decided nearly a decade ago to keep out of his personnel folder serious misconduct findings against Davila stemming from his years as a senior special agent with the Customs Service, records show. In return, Davila agreed to retire.
You can read the story of how Davila’s case fits into the growing backlog of federal background investigator falsification cases here. But for a closer, firsthand look at the misconduct findings against him and how such a settlement deal could have come about in the first place, check out the federal court filing.
Is this sort of exit deal in federal agencies unusual? Or more common than we think?
In connection with an upcoming story on the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down much of the Defense of Marriage Act, Federal Times is interested in hearing from gay and lesbian feds (and their partners) on what they think of the ruling and of the Office of Personnel Mangement’s If you want to weigh in, please email Staff Writer Sean Reilly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 703-750-8684.