Monthly Archives: March 2017

Agency Spotlight–Common Injuries to CBP Workers

cbpTo conclude our series on Customs and Border Protection this month, we’ll look at the most common ways a CBP worker can get injured during work. Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers have a dangerous job. Often, the conditions of work are harsh, and they must identify and apprehend dangerous criminals trying to cross the border. Below are some of the most common injuries or illnesses CBP workers suffer from.

Harsh Conditions

CBP employees work in harsh conditions, especially on our southern border with Mexico. Most of that are experiences desert like weather much of the year. This means extreme temperatures, wind and dust storms, and the lack of water and shelter. Temperatures reach well above 100⁰F during the day in the summer and can fall below freezing at night. Training exercises that occur in the heat can lead to heat-related sicknesses or death. High winds can cause dust storms in the desert decreasing visibility and may lead to vehicle accidents. Lack of water and shelter can become an issue if officers and agents are on day-long missions, or longer. There may not be another building in sight for miles, and in the harsh sun, that can lead to all sorts of issues. One being, having a short supply of water, which of course can lead to a whole host of problems.

Vehicle Accidents

Vehicle accidents are extremely common, whether it’s in the desert due to lack of visibility, running into a large animal, or on the streets in a city. Plane and helicopter provide air support to the agents on the ground; however, these accidents are quite common.

Illnesses

Some of these are due to a pre-existing condition, one that develops, or as mentioned earlier, from the heat.

Drowning

Sometimes agents and officers provide marine support for missions. Rivers such as the Rio Grande and the Colorado River have strong currents and cause accidents.

Shootings

Unfortunately, this is all too common. This is a dangerous line of work, dealing with dangerous criminals. Officer-involved shootings happen and can leave a worker injured, paralyzed, or even dead.

Any of these can happen and can leave an officer or agent with a permanent injury or symptoms that affect their ability to perform their job. We have had clients from the CBP (agents, officers, and chemists) who have been approved for conditions ranging from tibialis tendonitis, anxiety disorder, degenerative fraying of the shoulder, bilateral knee enthesopathy, lumbar spinal stenosis, and much more.

If you are a CBP worker and have been injured or developed an illness while employed in your position, and can no longer perform all your job duties, please give us a call at 877-226-2723. We would love to schedule a FREE consultation with you and discuss the specifics of your case and see if we can help you. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form.

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OPM’s Advice for Furloughs and Reorganization

reorganizationThe Office of Personnel Management has issued new guidance to agencies telling them how to prepare for an upcoming government reorganization. The reshaping guide states, “OPM is issuing this Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook to aid agencies that are considering and/or undergoing some type of reshaping (i.e. reorganization, management directed assignments, furloughs, transfer of function, or reduction in force)”.

If President Trumps’ budget successfully passes, as is, many civilian agencies will face significant spending cuts which will lead to workforce reductions. The guide describes how agency leaders should “develop, review, analyze, and prioritize mission requirements”. It’s also designed to help agency leaders and HR staff ensure that the reshaping efforts comply with merit system laws and regulations.

OPM said, “Does management need to reduce whole numbers as in ‘across the board cuts’, or is there the possibility of reshaping specific functions within the organization? There is typically less disruption to an organization when specific functions are reshaped than when entire operations are closed.”

There is no mention of specific RIF’s furloughs or job cuts in the budget proposal, however, agencies should begin planning now for any future cuts.

A former chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security said, “There is simply not enough time to get ready for a reduction in force if they wait until a budget is passed. Agencies that begin to plan for a RIF now, even without firm budget numbers, aren’t abandoning their employees. Quite the opposite is true: they are ensuring any RIF they may have…protects the rights of all of their employees.”

OPM also offers alternatives to RIF’s, such as, assigning employees to other departments on a reimbursable basis, using furloughs, and reassigning employees in “surplus functions” to other positions. They also suggest cutting hours, asking employees to change to a lower grade on the General Schedule, or using voluntary early retirements.

Also, included in a second updated guide is which types of employees are exempt from furloughs and what circumstances are exempt.

One thing that should be considered during this time is federal disability retirement. Many federal workers may not know they qualify for this, or worse, what it is. If you are a federal worker and have been suffering from an injury or illness, you may qualify for a federal disability retirement. If this describes you, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form! The consultation is always free. We would love to speak with you about your case!

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Annuity Computation For FERS Retirement Types

computationUnder the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), there are four types of retirement; voluntary, early, deferred, and disability. Last week we looked at the eligibility requirements for each of these retirements. This post will focus on the annuity computation for each.

Voluntary

Your basic annuity is calculated based on your length of service and your High-3 average salary. Let’s break this down a little. In determining your length of service, add all periods of creditable service, and eliminate any partial month from the total. Your High-3 salary is your highest average basic pay earned during any three consecutive years of service. Finally, basic pay is your base salary you earn for your position, including increases in salary for which retirement deductions are withheld. This includes shift rates; however, it does not include overtime or bonuses.

If your total service is less than three years, your average salary is figured by averaging your basic pay during all your periods of creditable service.

Computation

If you are under age 62 at the time of separation OR age 62 or older with less than 20 years of service, you receive one percent of your High-3 salary for each year of service. If you are age 62 or older at separation with 2 or more years of service, you receive 1.1 percent of your High-3 for each year of service.

Early

Your annuity is computed the same way as above, however, if you are retiring under MRA+10 (minimum retirement age), you are subject to an age reduction.

Deferred

The computation is the same as voluntary retirement and subject to the age reduction unless you postpone the start date of your annuity.

Disability

This computation is a little tricky. It is computed differently depending on your age and the amount of service you have at retirement. Also, the benefits are recomputed after the first 12 months and again at age 62.

If you are age 62 or older at retirement or meet the age and service requirements for an immediate, voluntary retirement, your annuity will be computed using the voluntary method above.

However, if you are under age 62 and not eligible for an immediate voluntary retirement, the calculation looks a little different.

  • For the first 12 months—You would receive 60 percent of your Hig-3 salary minus 100 percent of Social Security benefits for every month you’re entitled to Social Security. (Remember one of the qualifications for federal disability retirement is that you apply for Social Security benefits.)
  • After the first 12 months—You would receive 40 percent of your High-3 salary minus 60 percent of Social Security benefits for every month you’re entitled to receive Social Security.
  • When you reach age 62, your annuity is recomputed again using the amount that represents the amount you would’ve received had you continued working until the day before your 62nd The computation would like this—if the actual service plus credit for your time as a disability annuitant equals less than 20 years, you receive one percent of your High-3 for each year of service. If your actual service plus credit for your time as a disability annuitant equals more than 20 years, you receive 1.1 percent of your High-3 for each year. The total service used in the computation will be increased by the amount of time you spent as a disability annuitant. Also, your average salary will be increased by all FERS Cost of Living Adjustments paid during the time you were a disability annuitant.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal workers with their disability cases. If you think you may qualify, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. We would love to schedule a FREE consultation with you and discuss the specifics of your case.

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Hiring More Border Patrol and ICE Agents may be Tough

patrol

President wants to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents, but federal law enforcement officer representatives told lawmakers that their organizations have too many managers and not enough staff-level employees.

The CBP and ICE have consistently been ranked as two of the worst places to work in the federal government, as far as employee morale goes. The CPB has a yearly attrition rate of about 6 percent and they estimate that to hire 5,000 more agents, they will need to bring about 2,700 new agents onboard every year for the next 5 years.

“We lose 1,000 agents per year because they don’t like to work for the border patrol. We already have this high attrition rate, and on top of that, in a couple of years, we’re going to start seeing the people we hired in the mid-90’s start retiring,” Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (representing more than 25,000 frontline CBP officers) told lawmakers that the CBP suffers from a prolonged hiring process that can take up to 18 months. He also said he’s heard horror stories where applicants must go to an interview in one location and then up to a month later go to another part of the country for another interview, and pay their own way getting there. He went on to say that it usually takes 105-150 applicants to generate one new hire. Few people have the luxury of waiting around for up to a year and a half before being brought on board.

Some agents, once hired, get sent to border posts far away from their families on temporary duty assignments which contributes to the low morale.

Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, told lawmakers, “We enthusiastically support the additional officers identified in President Trump’s executive order on interior enforcement. However, we have little faith in the ability of ICE leadership to most effectively implement the additional staff. As with DHS in general, ICE is suffering from a toxic and failed management culture and absolute absence of leadership.”

Last year, ICE ranked 6th from the bottom in the FEVS survey, in 2015 they were 2nd to last, and in 2014 they were dead last. CBP continues to also rank near the bottom on the employee satisfaction survey.

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These Federal Government Programs May See Elimination

programs

Below is a list of the 10 largest programs President Trump has proposed to eliminate.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program ($3.4 billion)

Eliminating this program would account for almost a fourth of the overall cuts to Health and Human Sciences. Created in 1981, it subsidizes energy costs for low-income families and is run by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. They have a budget of $121 million and work with the LIHEAP by helping low-income families reduce energy consumption and making their homes more energy efficient.

Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion)

The Housing and Urban Development Department provides grants to state and local governments for infrastructure, housing, and other public services. Created in 1974, it represents half of Trumps’ proposed cuts to HUD. Administered by HUD’s Community Planning and Development Office, it employs 258 people.

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program ($2.4 billion)

This makes up more than a fourth of the education department’s proposed cuts. This program provides funding to state and local education agencies to hire more teachers and principles and to improve their quality and effectiveness. It falls under the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and employs 244 people.

Global Climate Change Initiative ($1.3 billion)

Created by President Obama in response to United Nations agreements reached in 2009-2010, these are administered by the State Department. This initiative has integrated climate change priorities into U.S. Foreign assistance.

21st Century Community Learning Centers program ($1.2 billion)

This program helps “high-need” schools implement during and after school activities. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Educations Office of Academic improvement administers it.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program ($732 million)

Eliminating this program would eliminate funding for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial needs to receive up to $4,000 a year. This program is administered by Education’s Federal Student Aid Office and employs around 1,400 employees.

Community Services Block Grants ($715 million)

Administered by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, this program focuses on alleviating the causes and conditions of poverty in communities such as employment, education, nutrition, and energy.

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant program ($499 million)

These grants fund local transportation projects that are “difficult to fund through traditional federal programs”. Funding must go to construction rather than design and planning and grants are awarded on a competitive basis.

Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program ($498 million)

This program helps rural households and businesses obtain reliable drinking water systems, sanitary waste and sewage disposal, and storm water drainage. It is administered by the USDA Rural Developments Rural Utility Service and employs 265 people.

Senior Community Service Employment Program ($434 million)

This program is to help low-income, unemployed seniors engage in job training. Created in 1965, this program allows seniors to participate in activities at schools, hospitals, daycare centers and other facilities. Labor’s Employment and Training Administration runs the program and has 1,100 employees.

For more information on these programs, please click below.

Largest Federal Government Programs that May See Elimination

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Proposed Budget by President Trump

budget

President Trump released his proposed budget and as promised, there are major cuts to programs and agencies. The goal of this budget is to do more with less, increase accountability, and “make the government work again”. Agencies will be held accountable for improving performance while “devoting a greater percentage of taxpayer dollars to mission achievement rather than costly, unproductive activities”. Congress still must approve this budget. A full budget, expected later this spring, will include “specific mandatory and tax proposals”.

Below is a summary of what this new budget could look like.

Department of Agriculture

The budget would fully fund the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The cuts in this department would include:

  • Funding in the National Forest System for “lower priority activities” such as major federal land acquisition.
  • Eliminating the duplicative Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, which would save about $498 million. Also, eliminating the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program.
  • Reducing staffing at USDA’s Service Center Agencies and the “duplicative and underperforming programs by eliminating discretionary activities of the Rural Business and Cooperative Service”. This would create $95 million in savings.

Department of Commerce

The budget would add $100 million for the Census Bureau to prepare for the 2020 census. It would eliminate the Economic Development Administration ($221 million in savings), the Minority Business Development Agency, and $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education including the Sea Grant. It would increase spending for the National Weather Service by over $1 billion to increase forecasting capabilities.

Department of Defense

Overall, defense spending would see an increase of $54 billion. It would repeal defense sequestration by restoring $52 billion to the DOD and $2 billion to programs outside the DOD.

Department of Homeland Security

Homeland Security would receive more funding to improve border security. Specifically, $2.6 billion in high priority tactical infrastructure including funds for a border wall. Proposed spending would include $314 million to recruit, hire and train 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new Immigrations and Customs Enforcement law officers in 2018.

$1.5 billion would be spent on the enforcement of immigration laws for “expanded detention, transportation, and removal of illegal immigrants”.

That same amount would go towards strengthening computer networks that protect federal networks from attack. The goal is to improve cyber security tools and to help information sharing with other agencies and the private sector.

User fees for the TSA and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) would get restructured “to ensure the cost of government services isn’t subsidized by taxpayers who don’t benefit from these programs directly”. TSA’s passenger security fee would see an increase to offset this. “Unauthorized and underperforming programs” at the TSA would get reduced to save $80 million, including reductions to Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program and reaffirms TSA’s decision to eliminate the Behavioral Detection program.

State and local grant funding for FEMA would see its budget reduced by $667 million.

Department of Justice

The FBI would see an increase of $249 million to strengthen operations to combat terrorism and other law enforcement activities.

  • $80 million would go to hiring 75 immigration judge teams
  • An additional 60 border enforcement prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. Marshals would be hired
  • 40 attorneys would be added to pursue federal efforts to obtain land and holding necessary to secure the southwest border and for immigration litigation assistance

There would also be $700 million in budget cuts including $210 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

State Department

The budget would eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative, funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds. It also would reduce funding to the UN and affiliated agencies. Funding would get cut for multilateral development banks, such as World Bank, by $650 million over three years. However, there would be funding of $2.2 billion that would go to new embassy construction and maintenance in 2018.

Department of Transportation

The budget would eliminate Federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services.

Federal Aviation Administration

This budget proposes the privatization of the air traffic control system and moving them under an independent, non-governmental organization that aims to increase efficiency while maintaining the safety of air travel.

Internal Revenue Service

The proposed budget would preserve key operations to ensure the IRS can still combat identity theft, prevent fraud, and reduce the deficit through effective enforcement of tax laws.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The budget proposes a $4.6 billion increase to the VA’s overall budget for improving patient access and timeliness of medical care services for veterans. It would also fund the Veterans Choice program.

Environmental Protection Agency

With this new budget, over 50 agency programs would get eliminated, saving over $340 million. A few of these include Energy Star, Targeted Airshed Grants, Endocrine Disruption Screening program, and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and Mexico border. It would also eliminate funding for specific regional efforts such as Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs with a savings of $427 million. Funding would also cease for the Clean Power Plan and international climate change programs. However, the budget does include $2.3 billion for State Revolving Funds and $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

This new proposed budget would provide $624 million for aeronautics research and development and $1.9 billion for planetary science programs. Funding would also be available for a mission to repeatedly fly by Jupiter’s icy ocean moon Europa, and a Mars rover that would launch in 2020. $3.7 billion would to continuing the development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and associated ground systems to send American astronauts on deep space missions. However, NASA’s Office of Education would get eliminated at a savings of $115 million.

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Eligibility Requirements for Each Retirement

eligibilityUnder the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), there are four types of retirement; voluntary, early, deferred, and disability. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the eligibility requirements, annuity computation, and special provisions for each. This post will focus on the eligibility requirements for each one.

Voluntary

Eligibility is based on age and number of years of creditable service. Meeting one of the following sets of requirements may qualify you for an immediate voluntary retirement:

  • 62 years of age and 5 years of service.
  • 60 years of age and 20 years of service.
  • Minimum Retirement Age (MRA)*and 30 years of service.
  • MRA and 10 years of service. However, your annuity is reduced by 5 percent for each year you are under 62.

Air traffic controllers, law enforcement, firefighters, or military Reserve Technician personnel can retire under these special provisions:

  • Any age and 25 years of service.
  • 50 years of age and 20 years of service.

**These provisions also apply if The Office of Personnel Management determines your agency is undergoing a major reorganization, reduction-in-force (RIF), or a transfer of function.

Early

You may retire at your MRA if you have 10 or more years of service. This is called MRA+10. However, your annuity will see a reduction for each month you’re under the age of 62. This reduction is 5 percent per year (5/12 of a percent per month). Contrary, your annuity won’t be reduced if you have completed at least 30 years of service or if you have completed at least 20 years of service and your annuity begins when you reach age 60.

Discontinued Service Retirement because of Involuntary Separation

If your agency makes you a reasonable offer and you choose to decline it and resign, you will not qualify for this type of early retirement. You also won’t qualify if you are separated by adverse action procedures for not complying with a directed reassignment to a position that is a reasonable offer.

Deferred

If you are a former employee who was covered in a FERS position, you may be eligible for a deferred annuity at age 62 or MRA. You must meet one of the following age and service requirements:

  • Completed at least 5 years of creditable civilian service. You would be eligible for a deferred annuity beginning the first day of the month after you reach 62.
  • Completed at least 10 years of creditable civilian service including 5 years of civilian service eligible for a deferred annuity beginning the first day of the month after you reach MRA.

A deferred annuity is subject to the age reduction penalty.

Disability

To be eligible for a federal disability retirement, you must meet all the following:

  • Complete at least 18 months of federal civilian service under FERS.
  • Must have become disabled because of injury or illness while employed in a FERS position.
  • The disability is expected to last at least one year.
  • Your agency must certify it is unable to accommodate you in our current position AND it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency at the same grade/pay level, and within the same commuting area for which you are qualified for reassignment.
  • You must apply before you are separated from service or within one year.
  • You must apply for Social Security benefits.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal workers with their disability cases. If you think you may qualify, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. We would love to schedule a FREE consultation with you and discuss the specifics of your case.

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Help with the DHS Hiring Push?

border

A few senators have introduced the Boots on the Border Act to help with the hiring process at Customs and Border Protection. The current process could take years to fill the 5,000 positions President Trump has called for. If passed, this bill would allow for a more efficient way of hiring in this agency.

CBP already has strict hiring policies, so this bill would loosen those by allowing certain groups of candidates to skip the polygraph section of the application process. Former federal employees who:

  • Served as law enforcement for at least three years,
  • Had authority to make arrests,
  • Conduct investigations and carry firearms, and
  • Previously passed a background check, would qualify to skip the polygraph.

Another authorization for exemption would be military personnel who are moving into civilian jobs. They would have to have served for at least four years and would also need a recent security clearance and would have to have departed the armed services with an honorable discharge.

State and local law enforcement officers in good standing, who took a polygraph as part of their initial application process, would also be able to skip the federal polygraph. The 2010 Anti-Border Corruption Act requires that all law enforcement hires for the CBP undergo a polygraph.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said his legislation would remove unnecessary obstacles. “We can’t effectively secure our southern border if we don’t have the manpower to get the job done. This legislation would address CBP’s chronic staffing shortage by streamlining background tests for qualified veterans, military service members, and law enforcement officers in good standing.”

However, there are still some potential pitfalls that exist. This new policy could further backup CBP’s hiring efforts. New hires will require computers, vehicles, guns, and offices. Additional mission support and legal personnel to assist the new staff would be needed as well.

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How Does FECA Help Injured Federal Workers?

feca

The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) provides compensation benefits for federal workers in the case of an injury, disease, disability, or death from an employment related cause. It covers both full and part-time workers regardless of what branch they work in. The following employees are covered under this act:

  • Federal jurors
  • State and local law enforcement acting in a federal capacity
  • Peace Corps volunteers
  • Coast Guard auxiliary members
  • Civil Air Patrol members
  • Volunteers

FECA covers all injuries and illnesses resulting from or aggravated by work activities. Exceptions to this rule include situations where misconduct by the employee is involved. Benefits are also suspended if the employee is imprisoned due to a felony conviction, and not restored upon release.

You should also file for Continuation of Pay (COP), which will provide you with 100 percent if your pay for the first 45 calendar days. This form is the CA-7. Compensation past the first 45 days is determined based on various factors, including the extent of the injury and whether you have dependents. With Temporary Total Disability, compensation is 67 percent of your salary without dependents and 75 percent with dependents.

FECA compensation and medical benefits continue throughout the disability with no maximum age. The number of weeks of compensation is limited but age is not. However, there are interactions of benefits with CSRS and FERS disability retirement so make sure to check that out.

Your claim for FECA must occur within three years of the injury, although if written notice was given within 30 days, that claim period can be extended. You also don’t need to use your accumulated sick or leave time before getting FECA compensation, but you can. What you can’t do is use that time to satisfy any waiting periods.

We do some work with FECA cases and would be glad to set up a consultation with you to see if we can help you. Give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

To learn more about some of the benefits of FECA, click below.

How Does FECA Help Federal Workers Who are Injured on the Job?

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Is Federal Employee Morale Declining?

morale

The National Treasury Employees Union took a survey of 877 federal employees recently and found that 81 percent said morale has been declining since the hiring freeze. About 58 percent say their workload has increased, and 78 percent say they and their co-workers worry about job security. Many more worry about possible cuts to retirement programs and pay and benefits.

NTEU represents about 150,000 employees in 31 agencies. They are trying to make a case to lawmakers that a “well-resourced, happy, engaged federal workforce leads to better outcomes for American taxpayers”.

NTEU president Tony Reardon said the severe budget cuts surprised him. They were especially severe in the IRS, EPA, and State Department. The IRS already has experienced budget cuts recently, losing about $1 billion in funding and 17,000 full-time employees since 2010. NTEU represents about 75,000 IRS workers.

“When you know about the IRS budget and the impact it’s had, for example since 2010—the $1 billion cut in funding—and you know the impact it’s had on employees, you know the impact it’s had on the IRS’s ability to function, and then you hear about 2018, a 14 percent cut that’s going to result in about a $1 billion hit in one year?” Reardon said.

Securing fair pay, protecting retirement and healthcare benefits, and achieving agency missions are NTEU’s top priorities in 2017. They also plan on defending merit systems principles and rights.

NTEU has been working with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), ranking member of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, on a bill to improve training operations for federal managers. The IRS, for example, has seen an 85 percent cut to its training budget in recent years.

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