Monthly Archives: May 2018

3 Major Executive Orders Signed

executive

Three executive orders were signed by President Trump that aims to reduce the time it takes to fire poor performing employees and overhaul federal employee union rights, including official time. Trump made a promise in his State of the Union address in which he sought to empower cabinet secretaries with the authority to award good federal employees and remove poor performers more quickly.

“Today, the president is fulfilling his promise to promote a more efficient government by reforming our civil service rules,” Andrew Bremberg, assistant to the president and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council. “These executive orders will make it easier to remove poor performing employees and ensure that taxpayer dollars are more efficiently used.”

Remove Poor Performers

One of the executive orders aims to make it easier for agencies to fire poor performing employees and makes it harder for those employees to hide adverse employee information when seeking reemployment at another agency.

The Government Accountability Office found it takes between 6 months and a year, on average, to remove federal employees flagged for misconduct, plus an average of 8 more months to resolve appeals.

Bremberg said, “Every year, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey has consistently shown that less than 1/3 of feds believe the poor performers are adequately addressed by the agency.”

This executive order requires agencies report disciplinary actions records and management of poor performers to the Office of Personnel Management. Data from OPM shows a federal employee is 44x less likely to be fired than a private sector worker.

Official Time Cuts

The second executive order will significantly reduce the amount of time that feds can be paid for union work on the clock. Federal employees won’t be able to spend any more than 25% of their work hours on through official time.

This order also calls on agencies to renegotiate contracts with labor unions and reduce official time by almost 2/3. The White House says more than 470 Veterans Affairs Department employees, including 47 full-time nurses, spend 100% of their work hours on union-related business.

Renegotiated Labor Contracts

The last executive order would reduce the labor contract bargaining window between government and unions. It orders OPM to establish a new Labor Relations Working Group which would oversee the terms of renegotiated contracts. It also requires federal union contracts be posted to an online database, with the goal of promoting transparency.

Is this a Good or Bad Thing?

For

OPM Director Jeff Pon said these new orders will make it more efficient to remove those not doing their jobs while protecting those that do. “By holding poor performers accountable, reforming the use of taxpayer-funded union time, and focusing negotiations on issues that matter, we are advancing our efforts to elevate the federal workplace. The clear majority of our employees are dedicated public servants who are dedicated to their missions and service to the American people. It is essential that we honor their commitment, and these measures reflect just that,” Pon said.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) supports these orders. “These reforms will improve accountability and productivity in the federal workforce, and I applaud the Trump administration for taking action to restore the public interest as the top priority of government operations,” Johnson said.

Sen, James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee said these orders would reign in employee unions influence over government operations. “These executive orders strive to make the federal government more efficient, not only for the taxpayer but for our great federal workers. We have thousands of federal workers who work very hard for the nation; it’s important that their work is not frustrated by the poor performance of a small few,” he said.

Against

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that these orders chip away at federal employee rights. “This is president Trump taking retribution on an apolitical civil service workforce.”

National Treasury Employees Union president Tony Reardon called these orders “an assault on federal employees”. “Rather than promote efficiency in the federal sector, the administration is demanding feds lose their ability to challenge unfair, arbitrary, and discriminatory firings and other actions. This would begin the process of dismantling the Merit System that governs our civil service,” Reardon said.

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Supervisors Need More Training, Says OPM

supervisors

The Office of Personnel Management is using the results of a government-wide survey to show they must do a better job of training and retraining federal managers and supervisors throughout their careers.

Mark Reinhold is OPM’s associate director for employee services and he announced, in a May 21st memo to human resources director, the results of the agency’s Federal Supervisory Training Program Survey. The survey, conducted in 2016 in compliance with the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations, focuses on how to improve performance management among supervisors.

In March 2015, GAO found agencies must do a better job of supervising new employees/managers during their probationary periods. OPM is making recommendations to help improve accessibility, adequacy, and effectiveness of supervisory training.

“While the federal government requires supervisory training, the development, implementation, and evaluation of these types of training programs have been left to the discretion of the individual agencies,” Mark Reinhold wrote in the memo. “Agencies have the flexibility to implement learning and development requirements and recommendations in consideration of mission needs and funding availability. As a result, there is inconsistent delivery and availability of supervisory training across agencies.”

The survey found:

On mandatory training topics…

  • 84% of participants indicated their agency’s new supervisory training curriculum included mandatory training topics such as mentoring, performance and productivity, performance appraisals, and dealing with employees with unacceptable performance
  • 63% of participants indicated their agency included mandatory training topics in experienced supervisory training programs

HR related technical knowledge and leadership…

  • 69% indicated they included the recommended HR-related technical knowledge and leadership competencies in new supervisors training program curriculums
  • 54% included the recommended topics in the experienced supervisors training program curriculum
  • 27% said aspiring leader/team lead training curriculums incorporated the recommended training topics

Types of Learning…

  • The top 4 approaches of all leadership curriculums were the same: onsite classroom courses, computer-based instruction, off-site courses, and workshops.
  • Reinhold wrote, “OPM encourages agencies to provide coaching services as a supplement to leadership development efforts at all levels because it is considered one of the most effective leadership development interventions. Furthermore, coaching can improve federal supervisors’ interpersonal skills, thereby enhancing the supervisor-employee relationship and ultimately maximizing employee performance.”

Evaluation of training programs…

  • The top 5 metrics used to evaluate include:
    • Satisfaction level of the training
    • Number of supervisors trained
    • Supervisor satisfaction level
    • Number of courses delivered
    • Change in knowledge, attitudes, and skills specific to the courses delivered
  • “These top 5 metrics only reflect activities, reaction, and learning, as opposed to the application of the learned skills and impact. These metrics cannot…determine the adequacy of a supervisory training program or it’s meaningful contribution to agency outcomes,” Reinhold wrote. “Agencies are encouraged to determine where supervisory training belongs in the overall business strategy. Supervisory training that is woven into the business strategy contributes measurable and meaningful changes in business processes, systems, people, and the agency culture.”

To see what OPM recommends, click here.

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White House Wants to be Greener

greener

President Trump issued an executive order focused on streamlining previous requirements for making federal buildings more efficient. The order “will drive continued action and focus on increasing efficiency of federal buildings and vehicles, improving environmental performance and accomplishing these goals in a manner that reduces costs.” The White House quoted Trump saying that running government smoothly and efficiently “is something that the taxpayers haven’t seen in a long-time”.

The order tasks certain agencies with leading the efforts to reduce energy consumption. It also contains fewer mentions of “sustainability” and “greenhouse gas emissions” than previous approaches. Instead, it stresses the potential savings for taxpayers by better managing the government’s 350,000 buildings, 600,000 vehicles, solid waste disposal, and use of water.

Trump directed the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget “to streamline the broad and intricate range of energy and environmental requirements and the complex directives on how to achieve them”. The order consolidates requirements relating to energy and water use, high-performance buildings, and renewable energy consumption.

“It emphasizes meeting statutory requirements and gives greater flexibility and discretion to agencies to decide how to best improve operations and meet goals,” the White House said. “It also encourages agencies, where appropriate, to use performance contracting to modernize buildings and achieve energy and water goals at no up-front cost to the government.”

With 45 days, each agency will be required to appoint a chief sustainability officer, and each will track and report performance results to OMB for an annual scorecard.

Within 90 days, the secretaries of Agriculture and Energy and administrators of GSA and EPA are to review relevant government-wide guidance related to energy and environment performance issued by their respective agencies. Then they will work with the CEQ to develop a plan and timeline to “modify, replace, or rescind such guidance, as necessary, to facilitate implementation of the order.”

The GSA and Defense Secretary will perform a similar review of agency-owned vehicles. After 150 days, the CEQ and OMB will issue new instructions for fleet management in compliance with the new order.

According to the Government Accountability Office, efforts by the government to achieve “greener buildings” have had some success. “GSA is well-positioned to support the administrations’ efforts to create efficiencies, cut waste, and lower costs to taxpayers by delivering value and savings across government,” a GSA spokesperson said.

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Volunteering at Ronald McDonald House

Last night, our team prepared dinner for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) here in Lexington, KY.

The Ronald McDonald House is very near and dear to our hearts here at Harris Federal. The son of a member of our firm underwent open heart surgery many years ago in Cincinnati, OH. Their family was able to stay at the RMH located next door to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. His family even enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner during their stay.

We are glad to have the opportunity to give back to such a wonderful organization.

Be sure to check out their website to learn more about how they help families in need.

http://rmhclexington.com/

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Major Overhaul to VA Funded Private Care

A major overhaul of veteran’s health care was passed by the House. This measure will expand their access to private care sector care on the government’s dime and bring the Veterans’ Affair Department through a process that will close some of its federally run facilities. The bill passed with overwhelming support, with a vote of 347-70.

The Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act received widespread support and will now head to the Senate, where it already has bipartisan support.

The White House has also officially backed this bill saying it would “strengthen the VA’s ability to deliver timely, high-quality healthcare in its own facilities while ensuring seamless integration with community care providers”.

The MISSION Act would provide veterans with access to private sector care when:

  • The services they are seeking are not offered at VA,
  • There is no full-service medical facility in their state,
  • They previously were eligible for outside care under the Veterans Choice Program, or
  • VA can’t meet its own standards of care in providing care to an individual veteran.

It will also allow a veteran and doctor to mutually agree that private care was in the patient’s “best medical interest”. The VA provider would first have to assess the distance the veteran must travel to receive care from the departments’ network of more than 1,200 medical facilities, the nature of the service required, timeliness of available appointments, and other “excessive burdens to care”.

One controversial part of the bill would put VA through a process like Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It would require the VA Secretary to assess the departments current capacity to provide healthcare in each of its networks and ultimately recommend facilities to close, realign, or modernize. The secretary would pass along those suggestions to a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed commission. The panel would then submit its recommendations to the president who would have to approve the plan in full, in part, or reject it. Congress would then have 45 days to vote down the plan or it would automatically go into effect.

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Relocated Federal Employees Get Good News

relocated

The General Services Administration has issued guidance that will reimburse federal employees who relocated for the job and were forced to pay hundreds or thousands in moving expenses. The regulations apply to all federal employees who qualified for relocation reimbursements under the federal travel regulations and received “some or all reimbursements, direct payments, or indirect payments on or after January 1, 2018”.

The guidance is retroactive from the beginning of this year, so those who have already relocated in 2018, but were forced to pay the moving expenses will be reimbursed.

“Agencies are authorized to pay [Withholding Tax Allowance] and [Relocation Income Tax Allowance] to cover ‘substantially all’ of the increased tax liability resulting from receipt of the relocation expense reimbursements either paid directly or indirectly,” GSA Associate Administrator for Governmentwide Policy Jessica Salmoiraghi wrote in the bulletin.

Here are some relocation expense reimbursements that are now taxable:

  • Shipment for household goods
  • Air expenses for traveling to a new duty location
  • Mileage for using your own vehicle to travel to a new location
  • Lodging expenses during travel to a new duty location

“GSA will continue to publish a moving expense mileage reimbursement, although the new tax law has suspended the ‘qualified moving expense deduction’ for moving mileage rate when a [privately-owned vehicle] is used by federal employees to travel to a new duty station,” this bulletin said.

To read more about this, click here.

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Is There is a Difference Between Retiring at Age 61 or 62?

retiring

Deciding when to retire can sometimes be a difficult decision. Your age, years of service, and your own personal situation come into play. Waiting until age 62 seems to be the norm for most, but is it really so costly if you retire at age 61, assuming you’re eligible to do so? Let’s look at an example to find out.

Retiring at 61

First, if you are a FERS employee with 20+ years of service, you can retire anytime after your 60th birthday.

Let’s say you are 61 and retire with 21 years of service. Because you retired before age 62, you would get 1.0% of your High-3 salary for each year of service, so in this case, 21%. If your High-3 is $75,000, that would be $15,750 annually, or $1312.50 a month.

You would also qualify for the special annuity supplement. There is a special calculation for this that uses your estimated Social Security benefit at age 62 (available from the Social Security Administration). For the calculation, you take the SS benefit and divide it by 40, then multiply that by your years of service. For the sake of this example, let’s say this adds $850 a month to your annuity. So, for that full year, until you are 62 and no longer eligible for this supplement, this adds $10,200, making your yearly annuity $25,950, or $2162.50 a month.

Retiring at 62

Waiting until age 62 to retire means you don’t receive the supplement, however, your annuity will be calculated 10% higher because you get 1.1% of your High-3 for each year of service instead of 1.0%.

In our example, you would get 24.2% of your High-3 instead of 21%. This is because working that extra year adds another year to your service, making it 22 instead of 21. Using a High-3 of $75,000 again, this makes your yearly annuity $18,150, or $1512.50 a month. Not counting the supplement, that’s a difference of $2,400 a year between the 2 years.

Now, let’s say you live another 20 years. Retiring at 62 will generate $363,000 (20 years x $18,150), while retiring just one year earlier generates $315,000 (20 years x $15,750). A difference of $48,000. Then subtract the special supplement amount of $10,200 you would’ve received for that one year and you get $37,800. Essentially, this is the amount you gain by waiting to retire at 62, which offsets the just over $10,000 you get from the supplement, 3.5x more.

In addition, you also miss another year of TSP contributions and agency matching, which in our example, could be as much as $7,500.

Many other factors come into play, such as work environment, illness, etc. But if you strictly look at the money aspect, it doesn’t seem to make sense to retire at age 61.

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Lifetime Identity Protection May be Coming

identityRep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) have proposed the Reducing the Effects of the Cyberattack on OPM Victims Emergency Response Act(RECOVER Act). This measure would extend the identity theft protection offered to victims of the 2015 OPM data breach to last for life. This bill would cover the more than 21 million current and former federal employees and contractors whose Social Security numbers were exposed as part of multiple data breached.

Under current law, federal employees who were impacted by data breaches can receive identity theft protection through 2026. Initially, OPM offered 3 years and up to $1 million in protection services, however, in 2015, Congress instructed the agency to extend the program to 10 years and up to $5 million in protection.

“The personal records stolen by hackers have no shelf life—so the identity theft protection offered to the victims shouldn’t either,” Ruppersberger said. “[Providing] these dedicated and hard-working men and women with a little well-deserved peace of mind is the least we can do.”

“There is no limit to the duration of when the compromised personally identifiable information can be used,” Norton said. “The federal government is responsible for the nerve-racking breaches and Congress has an obligation to make affected employees whole by passing our bill.”

Some, however, are not quite on board with OPM’s approach to protecting federal employees from identity theft. The Government Accountability Office concluded that insuring a person against identity theft to the tune of millions of dollars is “likely unnecessary” and may even distort identity theft insurance prices.

“This level of insurance coverage is likely unnecessary because claims paid rarely exceed a few thousand dollars,” GAO wrote. “Requirements such as this could serve to increase federal costs unnecessarily, mislead consumers about the benefit of such insurance coverage, and create an unwarranted escalation of coverage amounts in the marketplace.”

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Health Plan Changes in Detail

health

few posts back, we looked at the fact that there will be more choices for FEHB participants. Now, there is more information about some more changes on the horizon for the 2018 health insurance Open Season, which runs from November 12, 2018-December 10, 2018.

Supplemental Dental Insurance

This change will affect military retirees and family members. The bad news is Delta Dental will no longer be available for military retirees under the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program after December 31, 2018. The good news is that retired service members and their families will be eligible to participate in FEDVIP.

Delta Dental is available under FEDVIP in a high and standard option. The cost and benefits of Delta Dental under the TRDP program and the plan offered under FEDVIP differ. Here are some of the main differences.

  • The monthly premium for TRDP is priced regionally, like FEDVIP. The TRDP 2018 premium along the Gulf Coast in Florida is $32.25 for self only, while in Washington, DC, it’s $40.60.
  • Monthly premiums, for FEDVIP Delta Dental Standard Option PPO, range from $18.81-$26.59 (self only), $37.59-$53.17 (self plus one), and $56.40-$79.76 (self and family), depending on where you live.
  • Monthly premiums, for FEDVIP Delta Dental High Option PPO, range from $36.27-$53.95 (self only), $72.54-$107.92 (self plus one), and $108.81-$161.87 (self and family), depending on your region.
  • Both TRDP and FEDVIP plans provide 100% in-network coverage for preventative and diagnostic dental exams and x-rays.
  • The FEDVIP High Option plan has a $30,000 maximum in-network allowance while the standard option only allows $1,500 per person with no in-network deductible. The TRDP plan has more allowance of $1,300 per person with a $50 deductible.
  • The TRDP plan covers 80%of basic restorative services (i.e. fillings) and the FEDVIP plan covers 55%, with the High option covering 70%.
  • Major dental expenses such as crowns, bridges, and implants are covered at 50% in-network for both the TRDP and FEDVIP High options, while the standard option FEDVIP covers 35%.
  • TRDP provides only a $1,750 lifetime orthodontic maximum while the FEDVIP standard allows a $2,000 max, and the High option has a $3,500 allowance.

There are 9 other FEDVIP plans to choose from. Check out Benefeds.com for plan comparison tools.

The new 2019 premiums won’t be announced until October and coverage will be effective on January 1, 2019, for military and civilian retirees and on January 6, 2019, for most civilian federal employees.

Health Plan Options

This change allows all FEHB plans to offer 3 plan options (high, standard, and value), or 2 plan options and a high deductible option.

To further understand the impact of this change, let’s look at the 4 types of FEHBP plans: service benefit, indemnity benefit, employee organization, and comprehensive medical. To learn more about each, click here.

Each healthcare company has its own options and regulations. The Office of Personnel Management had a response to all the comments on the rule, “All carriers have the ability to adjust their premiums, focus on quality, recruit providers, and promote their brand to compete with the largest insurer in the FEHB program. That some carriers attract more enrollment than others is not evidence of an anti-competitive environment.”

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Military Spouse Employment Gets a Boost

spouse

President Trump signed an executive order calling on federal agencies to better recruit military spouses, also tasking agencies with developing new strategies to remove barriers to spousal employment. The order doesn’t create new hiring incentives but says agencies should promote those already in place. Trump is also calling on The Office of Personnel Management to educate agencies on those processes.

Military spouses currently have a couple of different options when applying for federal positions:

  1. They can apply non-competitively to vacant positions, OR
  2. Take advantage of the Priority Placement Program when moving with their spouse to a new duty location.

The Priority Placement Program gives spouses an edge when applying to a position at their new locations, however, it doesn’t supersede veterans’ preference.

Trump added that military spouses be given more telework opportunities also.

He also directs agencies to brainstorm ways to improve license portability and recommend new ways to ease spousal hiring.

“Military spouses have already shown the utmost devotion to our nation, and we want to show you our devotion in return,” Trump said. “We will now ensure that you have better access to federal jobs. By taking this action today, we are leading by example and encouraging American businesses across the country to expand job opportunities for our incredible and talented and highly educated military spouses.”

Kelly Hruska, the government relations director for the National Military Family Association said, “Obviously, the federal government can’t hire every military spouse, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’re hopeful it will help those military spouses interested in federal employment.”

Trump went on to say, “America owes a debt of gratitude to our military spouses. We can never repay you for all that you do, and we know what you do, and your spouse knows what you do. We can never repay you for that, but we can and will give you opportunities you deserve.”

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