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 email@example.com. Thanks very much!
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:
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 Air Force on Monday awarded IBM an $11.8 million contract to integrate its military personnel and pay processes into one system.
As part of the Air Force Integrated Personnel and Pay System Program (AF-IPPS), IBM will design “an enterprise resource planning-based solution to meet all personnel and pay requirements,” according to a Defense Department announcement. Work is expected to be completed by December 2014.
The new personnel and pay system will replace the Military Personnel Data System (MilPDS) and the Defense Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) for the Air Force, according to a December 2012 Mitre report. The new system will play a key role in helping the Air Force meet its audit goals.
The system will serve about 507,000 service members and “thousands of military leaders of different ranks, specialties, and career fields,” according to the administration’s IT Dashboard, which tracks the status of large technology projects. The Air Force expects the system will reduce annual payroll errors by 75 percent, and allow airmen to be compensated in a timely manner at least 98.5 percent of the time.
The Mitre report also notes the new system will have a self-service capability for airmen to update personal information and access their pay records anytime. However, the system is expected to have more than 100 user interfaces and connections to external systems, which could create technical, cost and schedule challenges, the report said.
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board plans to ask Thrift Savings Plan participants whether the sequester and–in many cases, employee furloughs–has prompted them to change their investment choices.
The question will be added to the biannual survey going out to a sample of about 50,000 TSP account holders this fall, Renee Wilder, the board’s director of enterprise planning, said in a brief interview today. At the board’s monthly meeting, Wilder said that TSP participation among active Federal Employees Retirement System members dipped slightly in June to a 12-month low of 2.39 million, but it is unclear whether that decline stemmed from soft market conditions or the impact of sequester-related budget cuts. The overall FERS participation rate remained relatively stable last month at 86.8 percent.
After 11 years, at least 300 cover stories, and a few thousand articles, today marks my last as a reporter at Federal Times. This afternoon, I will move over to our sister paper, Air Force Times, where I will cover Air Force personnel issues. The pay and benefits beat is now in the exceptionally skilled hands of Sean Reilly, and if you’d like, you can follow my Air Force Times coverage at my Twitter feed.
I’m excited to have this opportunity to cover the military, and write about all new issues at a time of unprecedented change for our armed forces. But I’m also a little sad to leave a paper and community that’s been such a big part of my life for more than a decade. So before I go, I’d like to tell all our federal readers thank you. Thank you for reading my stories, and thank you for what you do. Especially during these tough times, the nation needs people to care for veterans, guard the borders, fight wildfires, ensure our food is safe, deliver mail, and perform countless other vital tasks.
I’d especially like to thank the hundreds of federal employees across the country who have shared their thoughts and opinions with me over the years. Federal Times strongly believes that agency directors and congressmen aren’t the only people whose voices deserve to be heard, and it’s been important to us to include your voices in our articles — even though we know you’re often told not to talk to the media. Again, thank you for allowing me to tell your stories.
Whether writing about problems with the Defense Department’s ill-fated pay-for-performance system, the government’s sluggish pension processing, or contracting misconduct by U.S. Postal Service executives, I hope I’ve been able to have a positive effect on the federal community. It’s been an honor to help keep you informed.
The Veterans Affairs Department’s outreach strategy to try get Boston area vets enrolled in benefits is targeting the town’s famous love of sports.
The VA is paying $7,500 a piece to run ads in annual yearbooks for the New England Patriots and Boston’s Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, which, by the way, need two games to win hockey’s Stanley Cup.
Michael B. McNamara, outreach program manager for the VA’s New England healthcare system, said in a phone interview that the VA as been running ads in the yearbooks for two years. So far, the strategy of reaching out to vets based on the fact the city is so sports crazy seems to be working, he said.
“It’s a religion up here,” he said of Boston’s love of pro sports teams.
McNamara said 504 veterans have contacted the VA after seeing the ads asking about benefits. McNamara said the outreach is important because many veterans don’t know they’re eligible for benefits.
McNamara emailed a copy of one ad slated for the Red Sox yearbook, and you can see it here.
The White House this week announced that, with the government facing massive budget crunches, there will be no Presidential Rank Awards handed out this year.
What do you think about this development? Is it unfair and a bad sign for the overall federal workforce? Or do you think it’s a necessary step to take? Sound off below, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll keep your comments anonymous if you’d like.
Tags: Presidential Rank Awards
The Office of Personnel Management today published proposed regulations on a new phased retirement option, which will let federal employees ease into retirement on a part-time basis, while still getting half a pension.
You can read all about OPM’s plan here. And we’d like to hear from you on this potentially monumental change. Are you interested in phasing into retirement? If so, why? (Or if not, why not?) And if you are a manager, do you think allowing your employees to take phased retirement will help with your agency’s succession planning and knowledge retention efforts?
E-mail me at email@example.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to talk anonymously, that’s fine.