Monthly Archives: September 2017

Common Injuries to ATF Workers

workersTo conclude our series on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, we’ll look at some common ways an ATF worker can get injured during work. ATF employees often engage in dangerous work, particularly their work environments and dealing with people of special investigation. The nature of their job puts them at a significant risk for intentional violent injuries. Below are a few clients we have helped/are helping.

Investigator

An ATF Investigator routinely has contact with, and interviews, individuals of special interest. They must conduct investigations and inspections, identify evidence, perform background checks, understand federal/state laws involving commerce in alcohol and tobacco and verify inventories. They must be able to think clearly and stay focused on their task at hand without distraction.

This client was suffering from conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Migraines, and Insomnia. They had trouble communicating, their stomach was always in knots, and they couldn’t concentrate or focus for long periods of time.

Special Agent

As an ATF Special Agent, one must investigate federal law violations related to firearms, explosives, arson, and alcohol and tobacco. That person must conduct surveillance, interviews, and searches. They must also be physically and mentally tough, go through rigorous training, take personal risks, work irregular hours, travel extensively, prepare reports and testify in court.

This client was suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. They couldn’t make decisions or prioritize work, had uncontrollable anger and outburst, and panic attacks. These made it difficult for them to be mentally tough and to be effective at this job.

Special Agent

Again, this person was required to be mentally and physically tough and meet the requirements of being a Special Agent.

This person was suffering from multiple concussions, memory loss, ruptured discs in the neck, abdominal hernia, and cancer. They were unable to organize caseload, lost track of conversations, couldn’t take notes, would get anxious and frustrated, had nausea and dizziness, couldn’t use a computer or phone for prolonged periods of time due to a light sensitivity, couldn’t sleep, and tired easily. Clearly, performing the duties of a Special Agent was extremely difficult for this person due to their conditions.

If you are an ATF employee who has found you can no longer perform the duties of your job because of your medical condition, you may qualify for federal disability retirement. We offer FREE consultations, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

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Emergency Leave Transfer Program

emergencyThe Office of Personnel Management and The Office of Management and Budget, after consulting with federal agencies to assess the impact on employees adversely affected by Hurricane Irma, have now declared that establishing an emergency leave transfer program (ELTP) is warranted. This program allows employees in executive or judicial branches to donate unused annual leave to other federal employees adversely impacted by a major disaster or emergency. Donations may be made directly or through adversely affected family members. Leave is for those who need additional time off without having to use their own paid leave.

Receiving Additional Leave

Employees who are adversely affected or want to receive extra leave through this program should apply for it in writing to their employing agency. If unable to do that, they can apply through a personal representative.

Employing Agency’s Role

The affected employees’ agency will usually determine whether and how much donated annual leave is needed by their employees and which have been adversely affected. OPM has now authorized agency and department heads to take the following actions regarding this leave program:

  • Determine which employees are affected and how much donated annual leave they need.
  • Determine the period for which donated annual leave may be accepted.
  • Approve leave donors and/or leave recipients in their agencies.
  • Facilitate the distribution of donated annual leave form approved leave donors or from the agency leave bank to approved leave recipients within their agencies.
  • Notify adversely affected employees that depending on agency policy, they may request advanced annual or sick leave (even if they have available annual and sick leave) or leave without pay, so they aren’t forced to use accrued leave before donated annual leave becomes available. This is because donated annual leave may be substituted retroactively for any period of leave without pay or advanced annual or sick leave used because of the emergency. It may not be retroactively substituted for accrued annual or sick leave used because of that emergency.

The employing agency will administer the ELTP for its affected employees. If you want to donate annual leave, you must contact your own agency to learn if there are affected employees in your agency and how to donate. Agencies can also contact OPM to receive additional donated leave form other agencies, if necessary. OPM will notify each agency of the cumulative amount of donated leave to be credited for transferring to its approved emergency leave recipients. The employing agency will then determine the amount of donated leave to be transferred to each participant.

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All Consumers May Soon Get Free Credit Freezes

consumers

New legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would keep credit reporting agencies from charging consumers for freezing their credit. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act in response to the Equifax data breach that left Social Security numbers and other personal data of 143 million people vulnerable.

Along with making credit freezes free, the bill would also:

  • Require those credit reporting agencies to refund any charge for a credit freeze following the Equifax breach.
  • Create a federally mandated requirement to credit reporting agencies to offer consumers a credit freeze or credit freeze removal.
  • Prohibit credit reporting agencies from selling consumers’ personal data to marketing companies when credit is frozen.
  • Allow consumers to request that a fraud alert be included in their credit file if they have the suspicion that the unauthorized disclosure of their personal identifying information harmed them, and extend the alert period from 90 days to one year, and can be renewed for an additional year.
  • Give consumers the ability to get 2 free credit reports each year instead of one.

Senator Warren had this to say, “Credit reporting agencies like Equifax make billions of dollars collecting and selling personal data about consumers without their consent, and then make consumers pay if they want to stop the sharing of their own data. Our bill gives consumers more control over their own personal data and prohibits companies like Equifax from charging consumers for freezing and unfreezing access to their credit files. Passing this bill is a first step toward reforming the broken credit reporting industry.”

She is also launching investigations into the credit reporting companies Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. In her letter to Equifax, she criticized the company for its initial response to the breach, saying it took too long to announce the breach and didn’t provide enough clarity about what happened. She also demanded answers to questions within 2 weeks including how many and what types of records were accessed.

Warren sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wanting to know what obligations credit reporting agencies have in reporting breaches to these agencies and the number of complaints they’ve received about the breaches. Further, she sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for a review of the Equifax breach seeking information on current regulatory structure governing credit reporting agencies and consumer rights with respect to dealing with credit reporting agencies.

Preventing Social Security Identity Theft

Along the same lines as above, President Trump signed a bill into law on September 15, 2017, that combats identity theft by placing restrictions on when and how federal agencies can mail documents with visible Social Security numbers.

The Social Security Number Fraud Prevention Act of 2017 (H.R. 624) restricts federal agencies from publishing individuals Social Security numbers on documents sent by mail unless agency heads determine it to be necessary. This new law says regulations should include instructions for partial redaction of Social Security numbers on mail documents and that they can’t be visible on the outside of mailed packages.

Agency leaders should issue these regulations within 5 years of the enactment of the legislation.

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Hurricane Relief Efforts Now Open to all Feds

reliefThe Department of Homeland Security is opening its Surge Capacity Force to federal employees outside of the department to help with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma relief efforts. The SCF is a voluntary program that deploys non-FEMA employees to support disaster relief efforts.

Elaine Duke, DHS Acting Secretary, sent a memo to cabinet agencies detailing how other departments can recruit volunteers to join the SCF. The memo asks each cabinet agency to designate a “point person” to help spread the word, accept applications, and register them for the SCF with FEMA.

Currently, about 6,500 non-FEMA DHS employees are registered volunteers with the program. DHS has always intended to expand the program. A DHS spokeswoman said, “The interest is there. It’s a formalization of something that was always there, and there’s no time better than the present.”

The agency hopes to deploy at least 2,000 SCF volunteers for Harvey and Irma relief. “The devastation we have seen in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes is extraordinary, and our federal support to the collective recovery effort to these regions needs to be equally extraordinary. There is a unique opportunity at hand for eligible individuals to voluntarily deploy to these disaster regions to work alongside FEMA, state and locals, and countless others,” DHS stated.

Those interested must have an HSPD-12 Personal Identity Verification (PIV) and a government issued travel card to be eligible to join. Further, they must be trained on requirements of using those travel cards and be able to deploy to the field in 48 hours.

SCF volunteers will typically help in areas related to logistics, debris monitoring, individual survivor assistance, public outreach, IT, human resources, finance, external affairs, acquisition, and planning. DHS also wants volunteers to identify any special skills that might be useful to disaster response efforts.

Volunteers will spend a maximum of 45 days in the field. The SCF will only deploy under the secretary’s orders. Congress authorized this program under the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006; designed to help FEMA better respond to disasters.

Learn more below.

Hurricane Response Efforts Now to Include Feds from All Agencies

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Could Federal Firefighters See a Boost in Pay?

firefighters

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to boost compensation for federal firefighters. They call the current pay sphere an “injustice”

Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) introduced The Federal Firefighter Pay Equity Act (H.R. 3733). It would require the government to incorporate federal firefighters mandatory overtime hours into the calculation of their retirement benefits accruals.

The 15,000 federal firefights currently work a 72-hour workweek, 19 of those hours are considered mandatory overtime. They are paid time and a half for those hours, however, the government calculates their retirement pay as if all 72 hours are regular work time.

These lawmakers hope their bill seeks to bring federal policy in line with the rules governing the compensation of state and local firefighters—their mandatory overtime hours are compensated more generously in retirement benefit calculations.

“These courageous men and women work grueling hours in the most difficult of circumstances. It is our absolute responsibility to provide them with a retirement worthy of the sacrifices they have made in service to the United States,” Connolly said.

Walorski said, “The Federal Firefighter Pay Equity Act will ensure these first responders get the full compensation and benefits they deserve.”

The general president of the International Association of Firefighters, Harold Schaitberger praised the bill. “I greatly appreciate Reps. Connolly and Walorski’s continuing support for federal firefighters and the issues surrounding fair calculations of their earned retirement benefits,” he said.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees said it’s “unacceptable” federal firefighters receive less retirement than they deserve due to the current rules surrounding mandatory overtime. “This legislation would correct the situation that has resulted in federal firefighters receiving fewer retirement benefits than they are owed. Federal firefighters work in dangerous and extreme conditions, and as such, they deserve to receive credit for all of the hours they work—not a partial compensation based on fuzzy math,” he said.

Connolly introduced a similar bill in 2016, but it did not receive a hearing.

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Secret Service May Get Overtime Pay Cap Raise

overtimeA House panel has voted to advance a bill that would raise the cap on total pay U.S. Secret Service employees can earn in 2017. Last month, the Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said more than 1,000 agents, one-third of the agency’s workforce, have already hit the cap on the amount of overtime they can receive this year.

The 2017 Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 3731), introduced by Reps. John Katko (R-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), would raise the pay cap for Secret Service employees from $160,000 a year to $187,000 for 2017-2018.

“The men and women of the Secret Service deserve to be paid for the hours they work, period,” Katko and Cummings said. “They put their lives on the line every day and make tremendous personal sacrifices for our country. However, we can’t expect the Secret Service to recruit and retain the best of the best if they are not being compensated for the additional work that’s demanded of them.”

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) said, “The Secret Service can’t continue to rely on excessive overtime to fix its staffing problem. While the pay cap waiver is a short-term fix, Congress fully intends to continue to focus on ensuring the Secret Service implements a long-term, meaningful reform to improve hiring and retention thereby reducing the need for overtime at the agency.”

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said, “Proper funding is critical to an agency tasked with a zero-fail mission. Extending the pay gap waived at the Secret Service ensures agents, officers, and other employees are properly compensated for the critical work they perform each day.”

Elijah Cummings said, “Logic tells you if you’re not going to get paid, you’re probably going to go somewhere else. And these people can go almost to any agency because they are held in such high-esteem.”

It also directs the agency to submit a report on their recruitment and retention efforts, including data on attrition, morale issues, and strategies to address these issues. The report is also to include the total number of agents receiving premium pay above the pay limitation along with the total amount of premium pay paid to agency employees in the current calendar year.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill without amendment and by voice vote.

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Buyouts at EPA–Is that a Good Thing?

epa

More than 400 EPA employees are taking buyouts or early retirement and will be gone by the end of September. However, that number is still far below the goal set by Administrator Scott Pruitt in July.

The EPA said at the time it would accept a max of 1,228 applications through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments and Voluntary Early Retirement Authority Programs. The agency set aside $12 million to pay for the incentives, which max out at $25,000 depending on the tenure and salary.

According to the Washington Post, 362 employees have accepted a buyout, 12 retired at the end of August, 33 are planning to retire at the end of September, and 45 are still considering retirement offers. If all those employees leave, EPA’s workforce would drop to 14,428, which would be the smallest the agency has seen in about 30 years.

John O’Grady, president of American Federal of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals #238 said he thinks that the continued reduction in the workforce will make it hard for the agency to respond to disasters and crises.

“It’s disturbing. We’re seeing the response to Hurricane Harvey now, and the U.S. EPA has responded to all the disasters that I can remember going to back to the anthrax problem in the Hart Senate Office Building in 2001, and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The administration seems intent on getting the numbers of employees down further, but the question is: who’s going to do the job?”, he said.

Those who oppose the workforce cuts will keep a close eye on EPA’s responses to Harvey and Irma to see if they suffer from the latest buyouts. O’Grady said, “One thing we’re trying to find out is whether or not we’re able to respond to Harvey and Irma with the same kind of numbers as we have in the past. Our on-the-scene coordinator staffing is down, so how could we respond with that same kind of vigorous action that we have in the past?”

It is still unclear if the EPA’s budget will get cut by 31 percent, as proposed.

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Benefit Cutting for Feds with Unions?

senate

The Senate is gearing up to vote on two measures aimed at curbing federal employees’ ability to work on union representational issues while on the clock. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) offered a controversial measure as an amendment to the Senate’s annual defense authorization bill. It would prevent employees from counting years where they worked at least 80 percent on union representational duties toward their retirement pensions.

This bill would also prevent these employees from receiving bonuses and prohibit employees from engaging in any political activity, including lobbying, while on official time.

The term “official time” would get replaced with “federal taxpayer-funded union time”.

The second amendment would demand that the Office of Personnel Management issue more routine reports on official time usage. OPM is not required by the Senate to issue these reports and they last released information on official time use in 2014.

House Republicans have made many attempts to increase oversight and reduce usage of official time over the last few years. However, the Senate has largely ignored these efforts. Lawmakers originally enabled unions to use official time to compensate labor groups for having to represent employees they couldn’t’ require paying dues.

Generally, unions have called official time an “existential threat” saying Republicans were looking for avenues to carry out their opposition to collective bargaining.

The American Federal of Government Employees called the retirement bill “union busting” that would “silence the voice of workers”.

“Federal managers and their employees are fully competent to negotiate the terms of official time when it is needed, how much is needed, and where it should be used to address unique agency and workplace issues,” AFGE wrote in a letter to the House Committee.

A similar letter, by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said it was more efficient for one employee to work 100 percent on official time than for two to split their time between union and official agency business.

IFPTE wrote, “For civil servants to be able to do their jobs effectively and to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal, they must have credible and effective representation, independent of management, that can interact at all levels of government to provide decision makers with a more balanced and complete picture to allow for better and more informed overall governance.”

Lawmakers frequently turn to cutting federal employees’ retirement benefits when proposing budget-cutting reforms. So, it’ll be interesting to see what actually happens with these proposals.

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Overall Federal Hiring Increases and Veteran Hiring Decreases

veteran

Even with agencies hiring fewer new veterans to fill government jobs, veterans still had a stronger presence in the federal workforce in FY2016.

Veterans made up 31.1 percent of the federal workforce in FY2016; the previous year veterans made up 30.9 percent of the workforce, according to the latest veteran hiring report from the Office of Personnel Management.

“Federal agencies have used this initiative to meet many of their critical staffing needs while benefiting from the skills, training, and dedication to public service, our nations’ veterans, transitioning service members, and their families, bring to federal civil service,” OPM acting director Kathleen McGettigan wrote in the report.

veteran

veteran

**Images courtesy of Federal News Radio

Agencies hired 71,304 new veterans to positions in 2016, compared to 71,867 new hires in 2015. Veterans make up nearly 50 percent of the Defense Departments’ workforce, which is by far the largest of all agencies. Below is the veteran presence at some agencies:

  • The Department of Transportation and Veterans’ Affairs Department with 36.7 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively
  • OPM had the largest leap in veteran hiring between 2015-2016 going from 23.3 percent to 26.4 percent
  • Health and Human Sciences Department had the smallest presence of any major agency, only 7.5 percent of its workforce

Many agencies made noticeable improvements in retaining new veteran hires.

  • NSF improved its veteran retention by 10 percent between 2015-2016
  • NASA kept 85.1 percent of its new veteran hires in 2016 compared to 73.2 percent during the previous year
  • The Labor Department also improved its veteran retention rate from 69.9 percent in 2015 to close to 79 percent in 2016
  • 13 other agencies also improved their veteran retention rates

Most veterans, 45 percent, hold admin jobs in the federal workforce.

OPM’s director of veterans’ services, Hakeem Basheerud-Deen said that 2016 was encouraging. He said, “We remain committed to offering opportunities for federal agencies to learn about benefits of making skillful use of the veteran hiring authorities to meet hiring needs. We will also continue to provide federal agencies with suggestions for best practices, such as the benefits of continuous feedback from individuals actively engaged in the veteran hiring process and how such engagement will help the initiative to continually evolve to meet the needs of federal agencies and veterans.”

Veteran hiring has improved overall since 2009 when President Obama signed an executive order establishing a program to help agencies find ways to utilize veterans’ talents.

Veteran vs. Non-Veteran Pay

Even though the federal government employed close to 12,000 more veterans in FY2016 than it did 2015, vets still earned significantly less than non-vets, according to OPM. The Executive Branch employed more than 635,000 vets in FY2016, but they earned, on average, $11,000 less than non-vets employed by the government. Non-vets working full-time federal jobs took home an average of $86,746 in FY2016, while full-time veterans made an average of $75,707. This pay gap remained roughly the same from FY2015.

Differences in job type could account for the pay difference. Non-veterans are more likely to hold professional positions than vets. About 45 percent of vets held administrative positions compared to 37 percent of the overall federal workforce. Fourteen percent of vets also held blue collar jobs, contrary to only about 8 percent of federal employees in the overall federal workforce.

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Blended Retirement System for Military Members

blended

previous blog introduced you to a new retirement system for military members. Now, there is more information on that system and how it will affect service members.

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, the agency that administers the Thrift Savings Plan, has been working with military services to train eligible service members on their options. The FRTIB proposed rule on September 11, 2017, gave more specific details about implementing the new blended retirement system (BRS) along with who is eligible and when they’ll receive their first contributions.

The new plan moves military members from a retirement relying on a vested defined benefit plan to one that includes a reduced benefit plan with greater TSP benefits, the continuation of pay, and come lump sum options.

The new BRS incorporates four major changes to the current military retirement system

First, employing military services will contribute 1 percent of service members monthly pay to their TSP account. These contributions are in addition to basic pay. The military services will continue to contribute whether members contribute on their own.

Second, service members will be automatically enrolled to contribute 3 percent of their basic pay. The program will re-enroll them annually if service members stop making contributions.

Third, military employers will match TSP contributions from their service members dollar for dollar for the first 3 percent of their basic pay and 50 cents on the dollar for the next 2 percent.

Fourth, the program will invest employee contributions in an age-appropriate lifecycle (L) fund rather than the government securities (G) fund—unless otherwise chosen by the member.

Two groups will be eligible to participate in this new system:

  • Service members who enter the military on or after January 1, 2018
  • Military members with 12 years of service or fewer who decide to opt into BRS

Individual services determine which military members are eligible. Reservists who have less than 4,320 retirement points before December 31, 2017, may also be eligible. (Click here to learn more about retirement points)

To learn more about this new system, click below.

 

More on the Blended Retirement System for Military Members

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