Monthly Archives: June 2018

Reorganization Proposal

reorganizationThe Trump administration is proposing significant changes to the federal government. As noted in the document, “while some of the proposals are ready for agency implementation, others establish a vision for the Executive Branch that will require further exploration and partnership with the Congress.”

Purpose

The purpose of the proposal seeks to create a more efficient organizational structure for the government. Agencies often create different but similar programs without much coordination. The proposal seeks to create a different structure that will lead to more efficiency in government and more uniform policies by putting similar functions in the same organization.

The proposals would impact most of the federal workforce. Employees would move to different agencies and agencies would be consolidated.

Union Reaction

Unions often have a negative view of these proposals. The American Federation of Government Employees said this in a press release, “There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House and privatize government programs to reward political donors. We are particularly alarmed over proposals to privatize both the Postal Service and our federal air traffic control system.”

One of the reasons for this reaction is that the structure of bargaining units would change. New units could be larger while others would become smaller or disappear. This would lead to new union elections where employees would determine which union, if any, would represent new organizations.

These changes could lead to reduced income from dues paid by employees, increased possibility of some unions losing (and others gaining) the right to represent employees they currently represent, and the election of new employee representatives at the bargaining unit level.

This reorganization plan would upend some long-term arrangements these unions have.

Below are some of the highlights of the agency reorganization recommendations.

Department of Health and Public Welfare

The proposal would move some nutrition assistance programs now located in the Department of Agricultures’ Food and Nutrition Service into the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. It would also rename HHS to the Department of Health and Public Welfare.

The proposal is designed to align these public assistance programs at the Federal level with how they are often administered at the State and local levels.

Federal Food Safety Agency

This would reorganize the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food Safety functions of the Food and Drug Administration into a single agency with the USDA. The recommendation states the USDA demonstrates strong leadership in food safety and maintains an understanding of food safety issues “from the farm to the fork”.

The report also demonstrates the inefficiencies of the food safety system:

  • The FSIS has regulatory responsibility for the safety of liquid eggs, but the FDA regulates the safety of eggs inside their shells.
  • The FDA regulates cheese pizza, while the FSIS regulates it if there is pepperoni on it.
  • FDA regulates closed-faced meat sandwiches; however, the FSIS regulates open-faced ones.

Housing Policy Functions Moving to HUD from USDA

Currently, both USDA and HUD operate programs assisting homeowners and low-income renters and support rental housing development. Each agency operates a mortgage insurance program and provides loans to build, rehabilitate, and refinance rental housing. Both also operate separate rental assistance programs with subsidies for low-income tenants.

This proposal would move USDA’s rural housing loan guarantee and rental assistance programs to HUD. The purpose is to make it easier to have both agencies to focus on their core missions to align the government’s role in housing policy.

Consolidating Veterans Cemeteries

This proposal would transfer responsibility for perpetual care and operation of select military and veteran’s cemeteries located on DOD installations to VA-National Cemetery Administration. This transfer is designed to increase efficiency, limit overlapping missions, and ensure these cemeteries are maintained to national shrine standards to continue recognition of service to those laid there.

Consolidating Economic Statistical Functions

The Statistical System consists of 13 principal statistical agencies. Three of these—Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics—account for 53% of the systems annual budget of $2.26 billion. Reorganization of these agencies (under Department of Commerce) would increase cost-effectiveness and improve data quality while reducing the burden of government on businesses and the public.

Federal Transmission Assets

The Federal government owns, operates, and maintains over 50,000 miles of electricity transmission lines and related assets. Ownership of transmission assets is best carried by the private sector, where there are the appropriate market and regulatory incentives.

This proposal would sell transmission assets owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Power Marketing Administrations within the Department of Energy, including Southwestern Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration, and Bonneville Power Administration. The intent is to encourage a more efficient allocation of economic resources and mitigate risk to taxpayers.

Restructure the Post Office

The United States Postal Service has high fixed costs due to generous employee benefits combined with a universal service obligation requiring mail carriers to visit over 150 million addresses 6 days a week. The size of the delivery network has grown despite a significant decline in volume because of new technology.

USPS can no longer support obligations created by its enormous infrastructure and personnel requirements. The agency already has over $100 billion in unfunded liabilities, substantial capital investment backlog, and has posted losses for over a decade.

The proposal would restructure USPS to return to a sustainable business model or prepare it for a future conversion from a government agency into a private company. The U.S. could privatize postal operations while maintaining regulatory oversight.

Transitioning to a Digital Federal Government

This proposal would also transition agencies’ business processes and record keeping to digital. It would also end the National Archives and Records Administrations’ accepting paper records by December 31, 2022.

The purpose of this would be to improve workflow and effectiveness, and the ability to provide data by converting paper-based processes to electronic workflows, expanding entire services, and enhancing management data and information maintained by the Federal government.

Tagged , , , , ,

What Other Benefits Can You Receive?

receive

If you become injured or develop a disease while working in your position with the federal government, you may qualify for federal disability retirement. You must meet the following requirements:

  • Completed 18 months of federal civilian service creditable under FERS
  • While employed in a qualifying position, you must have become disabled because of disease or injury for useful and efficient service in your current position
  • The disability is expected to last at least one year
  • Your agency must certify it is unable to accommodate your condition in your present position and it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency, at the same grade and pay level, within the same commuting area, for which you are qualified for reassignment
  • You must apply before separation from service, or within one year thereafter
  • Must apply for Social Security Disability benefits

If you receive an approval for federal disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, you may be wondering if there are other benefits you are entitled to receive. As with any other type of retirement, i.e. voluntary, early, etc., there are other benefits you are entitled to when you retire on disability retirement.

Ability to continue working—you can work in the private sector and earn up to 80% of what your previous position (with the federal government) currently earns PLUS you’ll receive your disability annuity.

Survivor benefits—you may provide survivor benefits for your family if you choose to do so. You can elect to leave 0%, 25%, or 50% of your annuity. Your monthly annuity will be reduced by 0%, 5%, or 10% respectively.

Cost of living adjustments—you will be eligible to receive COLA’s 12 months after you begin receiving your disability annuity.

Social Security Disability—OPM does allow you to receive SSD and OPM disability concurrently, however, there will be an offset. SSD becomes your primary benefit.

Year 1 = 100% SSD + (60% OPM – 100% SSD)
Year 2 = 100% SSD + (40% OPM –  60% SSD)

Workers’ Compensation benefits—the ONLY benefit form OWCP you can receive concurrently with OPM disability is a Schedule Award.

VA Disability—if you have any VA rating, you can receive that concurrently with OPM disability.

FEHB—health benefits can be carried into retirement so long as you carried them in the 5 years consecutively leading into retirement, or if less than 5 years, the entire time you were eligible.

FEDVIP—this automatically continues into disability retirement. You cannot enroll, cancel, or change FEDVIP coverage just because you retire on disability. If you’re not already enrolled, you’ll be eligible to enroll in an Open Season.

FEGLI—you may be eligible to continue coverage if you’ve had it for 5 years immediately preceding retirement or for all the periods it was available if less than 5 years. If you’ve had coverage less than 5 years, you cannot continue into retirement.

FLTCIP—this will continue if you continue to pay your premiums. If you pay through payroll deductions, you may need to make other arrangements. You can generally have premiums deducted from your annuity.

Creditable years of service—one of the best benefits to retiring on federal disability retirement is that all the years you receive a disability annuity will count towards your years of creditable service when your annuity re-calculated at age 62. If you retire on disability at age 40 with 12 years of service (making you ineligible for voluntary retirement), and you receive a disability annuity until the age of 62 (when benefits re-calculate), you will receive an extra 22 years towards your retirement annuity calculation, bringing your total to 34 years of service. That sounds a lot better than 12!

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal employees secure a federal disability retirement. If you think you qualify or have any questions, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

Tagged , , , , ,

Major Changes Possible for OPM

office

The Office of Personnel Management may see major changes thanks to the Trump administrations’ reorganization plan. The agency may become a much smaller one and carry far less influence as the government’s’ independent entity responsible for administering merit principles, federal employee benefits, and human resource services.

Agencies have been preparing reorganization plans since President Trump signed an executive order last spring. Most agencies have kept the details of the plans concealed but the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Sciences, and Interior have been creating high profile programmatic moves.

Moving 2 of OPM’s largest programs—the National Background Investigation Bureau’s (NBIB), the governmentwide security portfolio, and HR Solutions—is expected to be a part of the reorganization plans.

To transfer the entire governmentwide security clearance program, the administration may direct the Pentagon to rename the Defense Security Service as the Federal Security Counterintelligence Agency (FSCA), which would serve as the primary governmentwide security clearance provider—a responsibility OPM held since the Pentagon first gave up the program in 2005.

HR Solutions, which currently offers products/services to help agencies with their HR needs, would move to the General Services Administration.

The plans also say that the reorganization may include a move of OPM’s healthcare and retirement service to GSA. GSA may get a name change as well, Government Services Agency—reflecting the new government services it would provide.

What remains of OPM, mainly policy offices may be moved as a new entity under the Office of Management and Budget. Losing both NBIB and HR Solutions would have a significant impact on OPM, which relies on a revolving fund and total appropriation of $261 million in FY2018. The agency would lose its highest earning activities, but the transfer could also create financial instability for OPM. HR Solutions brings about $206 million and NBIB generates $1.4 billion, according to OPM’s 2019 budget justification to Congress.

The loss of federal healthcare and retirement programs also would create a hole in OPM’s portfolio. They administer health and retirement benefits to more than 2.7 million active employees and 2.6 million annuitants, survivors, and their family members through Earned Benefits Trust Funds, which has close to $1 trillion in combined assets.

The administration didn’t make it clear how they expect to carry out an OPM reorganization. It’s also unclear whether the President would have executive authority to split various offices and functions from a statutory agency or if that would Congressional action.

The 2018 omnibus passed in March appears to complicate these initiatives. Agencies cannot simply cut or eliminate a specific program or office unless Congress has authorized the move in an appropriations bill.

“None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations act may be used to increase, eliminate, or reduce funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the president’ budget request for a fiscal year until such proposed change is subsequently enacted in an appropriations act, or unless such change is made pursuant to the reprogramming or transfer provisions of this or any other appropriations act” the 2018 spending bill says.

The administration has a deep dissatisfaction with OPM due to 2 separate data breaches of OPM systems that compromised personally identifiable information for close to 22 million current and former federal employees, contractors, and others.

Under OPM, NBIB has struggled to resolve a backlog of roughly 700,000 pending background investigations. Since 2014, when OPM decided to drop the largest vendor performing security clearance work, it has been unable to recover and keep up with the workload.

The Trump administration recently named the security clearance program as one of its 14 key initiatives under the President’s Management Agenda.

Tagged , , , ,

HUD May Evict a Union

hudHousing and Urban Development Department officials told a federal employee union that they must vacate federal office space by mid-July. Union officials said this is a move to attempt to undermine collective bargaining negotiations.

HUD issued a notice to the American Federal of Government Employees Council 222, which represents HUD employees, and said it wants to remove from AFGE’s existing collective bargaining agreement union employees right to HUD office space, phones, computers, etc. by July 15.

This proposal is intended to bring the department into compliance with President Trump’s executive order on official time and it gives the union 15 days to demand to bargain, otherwise, the eviction will move forward.

AFGE officials say this effort runs in conflict with the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act and the EO HUD officials cited as justification for the eviction. The EO states it doesn’t “abrogate any collective bargaining agreement [already] in effect.”

Holly Salamido, president of AFGE HUD Council, said unions aren’t required to renegotiate existing CBA provisions outside of full-term negotiations. “We can only be required to engage in mid-term bargaining on matters not currently covered by the CBA,” she said. “The law says that when you have a CBA in place, to reopen anything already covered in the agreement is called permissive bargaining, and we can decline to engage. [There’s] federal law laid out in Federal Labor Relations Authority decisions saying that if a matter is already covered, you can only make a change if both parties agree.”

HUD spokesperson Jereon Brown said the existing CBA “allows HUD to make proposed changes” and characterized the eviction notice as “simply” a proposal. “We’re committed to good faith bargaining with the unions,” he said. “However, HUD currently rents additional space for employees to work outside of its designated buildings in locations like Washington, DC and we also pay rent for union activity space in other locations nationwide. Utilizing that space for employees assisting in housing families in need would be a much more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

Salamido, however, thinks this is an attempt to hurt AFGE’s ability to bargain. “This seems to be a deliberate attempt to undermine our ability to prepare and conduct these negotiations,” she said. “To throw us out on July 15 when we’re going into negotiations, we wouldn’t have copiers, we wouldn’t have scanners or telephones or private offices where we can hold discussions…And they know that our best negotiators will b engaged in the full-term negotiation, and we can’t have people be in 2 places at the same time.”

HUD Director of Employees and Labor Relations Joseph Sullivan sent an email to Salamido. “You will receive management’s preliminary proposals shortly. We are eager to get into compliance with the EO’s as quickly as possible. Given the number of union representatives receiving taxpayer-funded union time, I am confident that AFGE [Council] 222 has more than sufficient personnel to bargain these proposals without detracting from the term renegotiation.”

Salamido went on to say they are weighing their options to fight back. “This is clearly an unfair labor practice and is prohibited by statute. But under the statute, the only person who can issue a complaint to the FLRA is the general counsel, and the Trump administration has deliberately not filled that position, so no complaints have gone forward…We will do everything we can to enforce our rights under the law.”

Tagged , , , ,

Dept of Education has New Telework Policy

educationBeginning October 1, 2018, the Department of Education is modifying its telework policy. Several new significant restrictions will affect the existing policy. This announcement only applies to the Education Department.

Changes

Agency employees approved to participate in the telework program must be present in the office 4 days a week. Those who telework will be allowed to continue participating in some flexible and compressed work schedules in combination with a telework agreement.

Any Education employees currently on a 100% telework plan and are within the local commuting area of an Education headquarters or Regional facility will be required to adhere to the new telework changes beginning in October. However, remote workers outside of the local commuting area of an Education facility will continue to work remotely.

Prohibit New Requests for 100% Telework

Effective immediately, managers and supervisors are prohibited from approving any new requests for 100% telework. Any teleworkers at the agency are required to renew their telework agreement by August 15, 2018, to reflect the revised program changes. Current telework agreements are to remain in effect until the revised program is implemented.

Labor Relations and Telework

It is unclear whether the American Federation of Government Employees played a role in the decision or implementation of this new policy. The labor relations environment at the agency has undergone a change recently. The Department has taken a more aggressive stance in dealing with AFGE Council 252, which represents many agency employees.

The notice to employees does note, “the office of human resources is currently assessing the impact of the change to the human capital policies and procedures.”

Tagged , , , , ,

USPS Exempt from Workforce EO’s

exemptThe Office of Personnel Management confirmed the federal employees of the Postal Service will be exempt from the executive orders President Trump recently signed. The orders aim to streamline the disciplinary process for the federal employees, boost oversight of official time, and revamp collective bargaining between unions/agencies.

The EO’s concern chapters of Title Five of the U.S. Code that don’t apply to the Postal Service. That goes along with an analysis conducted by outside attorneys for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said union president Fredric Rolando. Even though his organization is exempt, Rolando called the orders “an outrageous attack on America’s civil servants.”

“The NALC stands in solidarity with…all the federal unions and will work with them to reverse these executive orders,” he said.

The postal unions are relieved by this updated clarification. The official time order would prevent employees from spending more than 25% of their work hours on representational duties. The collective bargaining order required agencies to complete negotiations within a year and creates a working group to identify “wasteful” provisions in CBA’s and set “model ground rules” for labor-management talks. The 2 largest federal employee unions, AFGE and NTEU, have already launched lawsuits to block the orders.

Since 1971, the Postal Service has been set up as an independent agency and operating to resemble a private enterprise, it’s often exempt from governmentwide provisions. For example, USPS was unaffected by the hiring freeze Trump enacted on the civilian workforce.

This clarification comes at a key time because USPS is set to begin negotiations with the American Postal Workers Union. Their current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in September.

All of this doesn’t mean Postal employees won’t face changes in the future. Trump has created a task force to examine their operations and the state of its workforce. The group has held meetings with stakeholders and plans to issue a report of recommendations by August 10.

Tagged , , , , ,

Watch for these Pieces of Legislation

legislation

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky) decided to cancel most of the August recess to give Congress more time to consider legislation that doesn’t make the national headlines but improves congressional oversight.

The following pieces of legislation are worth watching this summer.

Congressional Oversight

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee leadership want agencies to provide annual “financial statements” with detailed information about improper payments and post it online.

The Payment Integrity Information Act also requires that agencies periodically review all programs and activities that may lead to improper payments being made and develop a plan for correcting those activities. This bill would also set up a working group of federal, state, and local agencies, which would try to find the source of improper payments.

The Office of Management and Budget and Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) would be responsible for issuing guidance to agencies to help them improve reporting compliance.

Some senators also want a clear status update on the recommendations agencies have received from their inspector generals and the Government Accountability Office. The Good Accounting Obligation in Government (GAO-IG) Act has been introduced and would require agencies to give Congress an annual report on the status of IG and GAO recommendations.

Agencies have more than 8,000 open recommendations from GAO and at least 15,000 unaddressed suggestions from IG’s.

College Grants and Repayment Options

There are many challenges of recruiting and retaining young talent in government. Only about 6% of the federal workforce is under age 30, with 1.2% of employees between ages 20-24.

Sen. Ben Cardin wants to make working in government a more attractive option for recent college graduates. The Strengthening American Communities Act would set up a National Public Service Education Grant. The grant would fund most of a student’s tuition at a public college or university, and the college would contribute part of the remaining cost. Those who accept the grant would commit themselves to at least 3 years in public service.

Cardin’s bill would also establish a Debt-Free Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would cancel a certain percentage of a graduates’ federal student loan debt based on the individual’s tenure in public service. Candidates must meet specific requirements and be enrolled in a repayment program. The program won’t be retroactive.

“The current system of indebting individuals at the start of the careers has led to minority under-representation in our public-sector workforce,” Cardin said. “First-generation college students and students from low-income families cannot afford to take on student loan debt and enter into lower-paying public service careers. As a result, our nation is deprived of the talents and perspectives of those who want to serve their communities but simply cannot afford to do so, resulting in our workforce that is less representative of the people it serves.”

Federal employees who meet certain criteria can apply for the federal student loan repayment program. Agencies can make loan payments for an employee of up to $10,000 a year with a max of $60,000 per person. Employees must commit to staying at their agencies for at least 3 years.

Federal Property Management

Some senators want agencies to assess their own federal property needs more often than current practice. Four senators have introduced the Federal Personal Property Management Act. Currently, agencies declare the property as excess when moving offices or reducing space, which means organizations are known to keep the unnecessary and unneeded property. The new legislation would create a standard process for agencies to access and understand the true value of their property. Agencies will have to identify the age, condition, and extent to which the property is used during these assessments.

Tagged , , , ,

Remember These Numbers

numbers

A lot of thought and planning goes into retirement. A couple of things could happen:

  1. You’re mentally, and maybe even financially, ready to retire, but you aren’t eligible to retire yet.
  2. You’re eligible to retire, however, you’re either not financially ready, or you simply want to keep working.

In either scenario, there are certain numbers you want to keep in mind.

30

In most eligibility scenarios, you are eligible to retire after 30 years of creditable service. With few exceptions, this is when you can receive a full pension. If you’re able/willing, waiting to hit this milestone is in your best interest.

If you don’t wait, but can make it to your Minimum Retirement Age, and you have at least 10 years of service, you have 2 options:

  • Take an immediate pension with a reduction while maintaining your federal health benefits
  • Postpone your pension until age 60 (with 20 or more years of service) or age 62 (with less than 20 years). If you do this, you’ll be eligible to pick up federal health benefits at the same time you pick up your pension.

55

You may begin withdrawing from your Thrift Savings Plan without the IRS’s 10% early withdrawal penalty if you retire or separate from federal service in the year you turn 55.

This is also the age when a CSRS employee with at least 30 years of service becomes eligible to retire.

4

You accrue 4 hours of sick leave each pay period. While working, your sick leave acts as short-term disability and allows you to be paid at your regular pay while out with an illness or short-term disability. This time is converted to months/days at retirement and added to your creditable service.

This is such a valuable benefit because you are rewarded at the end of your career for unused sick leave.

240

Every year you can save and roll over up to 240 hours of unused annual leave into the next calendar year. Once you hit your 15th year of work, you accumulate 8 hours of annual leave per pay period. At the end of your career, any unused annual leave hours will be paid out to you in a lump sum. The hours are paid out at your last pay rate, even though they may have been accrued at a much lower rate.

A bonus is if you wait to retire until the end of the year, IF there is a cost of living adjustment for current employees, you’ll receive the COLA on your unused annual leave payout.

10

This is the recommended percentage to save on everything you earn. 10% saved throughout your entire career will likely lead to the accumulated amount you need for retirement.

It’s also the amount that gets contributed to your TSP account, including your agency match if you contribute the maximum of 5%.

65

If you are retired at age 65, you will be asked to decide around electing Medicare benefits. Federal retirees are part of the only group health plan in the country that allows an opt out of Medicare.

This does require some thought, however. You do want to elect Part A, which covers room and board in the hospital, hospice, and home health care. You’ve already paid for this benefit while you were working, so it’s free.

The choice of Part B is trickier. It comes with a premium of at least $134/month, and possibly more since it’s based on your prior 2 years’ income. If you don’t make the election within your enrollment period at age 65 and later decide you want to enroll in Part B, there’s a 10% penalty for each year you’ve waited to enroll.

Make sure you keep these numbers in mind when deciding to retire. It can save you money and/or time.

Harris Federal Law Firm helps federal employees with Federal Disability Retirement. If you think you qualify, don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

Tagged , , , , ,

OPM has Plan for Digital Records

digitalThe Office of Personnel Management requested information related to its plan to develop a government-wide digital record that makes it easier for federal employees to transfer between agencies or leave and re-enter federal service.

The request asked businesses for possible technology solutions that would provide several functionalities for the agency. OPM has committed to begin development of a “standard employee digital record” by 2019.

The notice lays out many key objectives for the object, such as allowing for an agency to create a file for a federal employee once, that can then be updated as needed completely within the digital environment.

“[The system would enable] movement of federal employees between agencies in an agile manner without re-entering data, and [retain and manage] records so that as employees move in and out of government, their information can be easily retrieved for re-entry or retiring processing,” OPM wrote.

They also said the digital record system would replace a variety of agency-specific processes, enabling “elimination of burdensome manual data collection and routine government-wide reporting activities”.

“Currently, human resource data systems lack integration within agencies and interoperability among and between agencies and service providers,” OPM stated. “This results in redundancy, inefficient and occasionally inaccurate reporting, complex and costly vendor management, and incomplete data that makes it difficult to apply needed business to core HR functions.”

This new digital record also makes it easier for agencies to implement changes in legislation, regulation, and other policies and procedures. OPM hopes to implement the new system “incrementally”, eventually expanding to all executive branch employees, retirees, and family members, and to HR functions such as recruitment, background investigations, training, performance management, and retirement processing.

The program is still in the development phase. The deadline for formal responses on June 13th.

Tagged , , , ,

Congratulations!

We want to say CONGRATULATIONS to Ashlee Cartmell who is celebrating her 5-year anniversary with us! We are so lucky to have her as part of our team!

Here’s to 5 more!

congratulations