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Postal Service woes could undermine federal workers’ comp fund

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What happens at the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily stay at the Postal Service.

The latest example: A federal workers’ compensation fund could run out of money within three months if the cash-strapped mail carrier skips a $1.2 billion payment due in mid-October, according to the Labor Department.

The department runs the fund under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Should the Postal Service miss the October “chargeback” for past claims, officials estimate that the program would have no money to pay any benefits during the last four months of fiscal 2012, running from next June through September, according to a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

BUT, the fund could have to halt benefits by late this November if the Postal Service misses its required payment and—as is considered extremely possible—the government begins fiscal 2012 under a continuing resolution. The reason is that Congress generally doesn’t appropriate enough money under a short-term CR to cover the cost of annual lump sum benefits, Brian Kennedy, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said in the letter. On top of that, the workers’ comp fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay the vendor that processes medical claims under the compensation act, Kennedy wrote. His letter, dated Aug. 1, was first reported by Reuters news service.

So, will the Postal Service, which describes itself as effectively bankrupt, be able to ante up?  At this point, the answer is yes, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email. But in its third-quarter report released earlier this month, the Postal Service suggested it could  have “insufficient cash” to meet all of its federal obligations this fall, including the workers’ comp component.

The moral? To rewrite a famous line from English poet John Donne, no agency is an island. And for thousands of federal workers’ comp beneficiaries out there . . . keep your fingers crossed.

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SAVE award winner announced

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Congrats to Trudy Givens of Portage, Wisconsin. The long-time Bureau of Prisons employee is this year’s SAVE award winner for her suggestion that the government stop printing and mailing daily hard copies of the Federal Register to almost 10,000 federal employees who are probably using the on-line version anyway.

Givens won out over three other finalists with almost 20,000 votes, according to a blog post Monday by Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients. The runners-up were Agriculture Department employee Marjorie Cook, Pat Behe of the Department of Homeland Security, and Thomas Koenning from the Department of Labor.

As the winner, Givens will get an invitation to discuss her idea directly with President Obama, who launched the SAVE contest last year to find worthwhile economy moves from the federal workforce.

Not clear, though, is whether her proposal will be adopted. In his post, Zients said only that all SAVE award submissions will be sent to federal agencies for potential action and inclusion in Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget request.

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New rule: contractors must give employees union info

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Government contractors and subcontractors are now required to post signs that “inform their employees of their rights as employees under federal labor laws.” Acquisition workers will have to write the provision into every contract they write from now on.

The rule went into effect yesterday, about a month after the Labor Department published it in the Federal Register. It’s based on a Jan. 30, 2009 executive order from President Obama. The president wrote at the time that his order was “designed to promote economy and efficiency in government procurement.  When the Federal Government contracts for goods or services, it has a proprietary interest in ensuring that those contracts will be performed by contractors whose work will not be interrupted by labor unrest.”

Essentially, the order and the rule are designed to ensure that employees are aware of their right to join a union. The move is part of a package of labor-related executive orders issued in early 2009. One, related to collective bargaining agreements on large construction projects, already resulted in a change to federal procurement rules. Two others are still working their way through the pipeline.

Rebecca Pearson of the Washington law firm Venable said the information contained in the notices required to be posted under the new rule is fairly benign, but that the move is part of the Obama administration’s larger “pro-union agenda.” She also worried that the rule allows for contractors to be suspended or disbarred if they don’t comply.

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