Monthly Archives: July 2018

Definitions for Federal Disability Retirement

definitions

Federal disability retirement has strict eligibility requirements you must meet to be qualified for the benefit:

  • You must have 18 months of federal civilian service creditable under the Federal Employees Retirement System.
  • While employed in a position subject to the retirement system, you must have become disabled due to disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position.
  • Your disability must be expected to last at least one year.
  • Your agency must certify it’s unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition and it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency, at the same grade or pay level, within the same commuting area, for which you are qualified for reassignment.
  • You must apply before your separation from service or within one year thereafter.
  • You must apply for Social Security Disability benefits.

A couple of these requirements are straightforward and really require no further explanation. However, some aren’t as easily understood. So, let’s look at some of these terms or phrases and clarify what they mean.

Useful and Efficient Service

This means either acceptable performance of the critical or essential elements of the position, or the ability to perform at that level and have satisfactory conduct and attendance.

Vacant Position

A vacant position is one of the same tenure (career or temporary, depending on what you’re in currently) in the same commuting area, which is not occupied and that is full-time. The position must have a work schedule of no less time than your current position. It must also be a real position, not one that your agency “made up”.

Same Grade and Pay Level

Regarding a vacant position within the same pay system as you currently occupy, the same grade and an equivalent amount of basic pay as defined in 5 U.S.C. 8331(3).

Regarding a vacant position in another pay system, a representative rate (as defined in 5 CFR 532.401) at least equal to the representative rate of your current position.

Commuting Area

This means the geographic area that usually constitutes one area for employment purposes. It includes any population center (or 2 or more neighboring ones) and the surrounding localities in which people live and can reasonably be expected to travel back and forth daily for usual employment. For disability retirement purposes, this is 50 miles.

Qualified for Reassignment

You must be able to meet the minimum requirements for the grade and series of the vacant position in question. For this purpose, under 5 U.S.C. 8337(a), an employee of the U.S. Postal Service is not considered qualified for reassignment if the reassignment is to a position in a different craft or is inconsistent with the terms of a collective bargaining agreement covering the employee.

If you think you may qualify for federal disability retirement, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. We would love the chance to speak with you. The consultation is always FREE.

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Paid Parental Leave as a Solution?

parental Could paid parental leave be a solution to federal recruiting? One Representative thinks so.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is once again trying to push for a paid parental leave program for federal employees. She recently introduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2018, which would provide up to 12 weeks for birth, adoption, or fostering of a new child.

“I don’t want that brilliant researcher to say, ‘I’m not going to come work at NIH, because what if I want to have a baby and they don’t provide me that paid leave?” Comstock said. “We want to make sure we’re attracting that talent and having the best and brightest working in government.”

Advocates of this kind of program estimate agencies could save as much as $50 million a year in turnover, training, and human resources cost.

In the private sector, employees who have access to paid parental leave are more likely to return to their jobs after the birth or adoption of a new child. However, women in the federal government are not more likely to return to their jobs.

Jessica Klement, staff vice president for advocacy at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association, said female federal employees of childbearing age—here, 30-44—are 31% more likely to leave their government jobs than men of the same age.

“This is a time when people should be settled in their jobs, and we see that’s less true for women, in part, because of these issues,” Kevin Miller, sr. researcher for the American Association of University Women said.

It’s already tough for agencies to recruit and retain young talent. Only 6% of the federal workforce is under age 30, while roughly 40% of the workforce is eligible to retire within the next 3 years.

“The federal government has a recruitment problem,” Klement said. “We have to do something to recruit new employees, younger employees into the federal workforce. Study after study of the younger generation shows that they value work-life balance in ways that the generation before them didn’t. There’s actually a demand for more work-life balance, more workplace flexibilities, and for policies like paid parental leave.”

Comstock introduced similar bills in the past authorizing 6 weeks of leave. That legislation passed the House back in 2009 but never made it to a vote in the Senate.

“It was 6 weeks and I guess the thinking was…that’s pretty good, that’s better than nothing,” Comstock said. “But as we know, 3 months or even 4 months has really become the standard among businesses. If I were going to work at one of our major defense contractors, any large company…we would have 3 months of paid leave.” She went on to say, “If we’re going to have this fight and we’re going to really push to get this, why do it for 6 weeks instead of 12, and then we’ll be back here asking again?”

Federal employees have a right to unpaid parental leave, but there’s no government-wide policy that guarantees paid leave for new mothers and fathers. Federal employees can carry over sick leave from year to year, however, it doesn’t leave young families many options if their sick bank is completely empty after the birth of a child.

The perception is that federal employees have a very generous pay and benefits package and the fact that there’s not paid parental leave contradicts that.

“This is a bill that provides a benefit for federal employees, a common benefit in the private sector,” Klement said. “This is not necessarily an environment in which people want to be on record voting for a positive benefit for federal employees.”

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FERS Retirement Requirements

requirementsThere are many different types of retirements under the Federal Employees Retirement System and each has its own set of rules and requirements for you to be eligible for retirement. **This post will focus on the mainly just the age and service requirements for each retirement, not the annuity calculations or benefits that go along with each.

Early Retirement

Under this type of FERS retirement, if you are at MRA+10, you are eligible for retirement. MRA+10 means that if you have 10 or more years of service, you can retire at your Minimum Retirement Age. This age depends on your birth year.

You can use this table to determine your MRA:

Birth year MRA
Before 1948 55
1948 55, 2 months
1949 55, 4 months
1950 55, 6 months
1951 55, 8 months
1952 55, 10 months
1953 to 1964 56
1965 56, 2 months
1966 56, 4 months
1967 56, 6 months
1968 56, 8 months
1969 56, 10 months
After 1969 57

Early Optional Retirement

If your agency undergoes a major reorganization, reduction in force, or transfer of function, and a significant number of employees will be separated or have their pay reduced, the agency head can ask the Office of Personnel Management to grant this type of retirement for eligible employees. Eligible employees are those who are 50 with at least 20 years of service (5 of which must be civilian service) or any age with at least 25 years (again, 5 of which must be civilian).

Voluntary Retirement

Eligibility is based on age and service requirements and other special requirements. If you meet one of the following sets of requirements, you may be eligible for a voluntary immediate retirement where benefits begin 30 days after your separation.

Min. Age Min. Service Special Requirements
62 5 None
60 20 None
MRA 30 None
MRA 10 None
Any Age

50

25

20

Special Provisions
Any Age50 25

20

Major Reorganization, RIF, Or transfer of function

Phased Retirement

Phased retirement is a little different, so here’s just a little background on what it is.

It’s essentially part-time retirement for federal employees. Phased retirement is intended to enhance the mentoring and training of employees who’ll be filling the position once you fully retire. It encourages experienced employees to remain in at least a part-time capacity until the less experienced employees are fully equipped to complete the job duties.

It permits you to retire from part of your employment while continuing to earn additional retirement benefits proportionately based upon the additional less than part-time employment while continuing to work part-time.

To be eligible, you must have been employed on a full-time basis for at least 3 years leading up to the entry into phased retirement. You must have at least MRA+30 or be at least 60 years of age with 20+ years of service. Those covered under special provisions are not eligible for this retirement. The program is completely voluntary and does require an agreement between employee and agency.

Deferred Retirement

A deferred retirement is just that, an annuity that you defer to a later date. You are eligible for this if you meet one of the following age and service requirements:

  • If you’ve completed 5 years of creditable civilian service, then you’re eligible for a deferred annuity beginning the 1st day of the month after you reach age 62.
  • If you’ve completed at least 10 years of creditable civilian service, including 5 years of civilian service, then you’re eligible for a deferred annuity beginning the 1st day of the month after you reach your MRA.

Disability Retirement

This is different because it relies on more than just age and years of service. While service does come into play, there is no specific age requirement. You must meet all the following requirements:

  • At least 18 months federal civilian service creditable under FERS.
  • You must have become disabled, while employed in a position subject to the retirement system, because of disease or injury for useful and efficient service in your current position.
  • Your disability is expected to last at least 12 months.
  • Your agency must certify that it is unable to accommodate your condition in your current position and its 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.
  • You must apply for Social Security Disability benefits.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal employees with their disability retirement applications. If you think you qualify for federal disability retirement, please call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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Restructuring the Federal Government

restructuring

For a while now, there has been a lot of news about plans to restructure the federal government. Most of these plans for reorganization would require approval from Congress. The Reforming Government Act of 2018 (S 3137) provides a legal path for making changes discussed by the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney.

Introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), this bill would make it possible for President Trump to start the process of implementing the government reorganization plan. This bill doesn’t give the president authority to make unilateral changes in how the government is organized. Instead, the bill would change the current law to incorporate the changes proposed in the reorganization plan that was recently released.

Changes

There is existing legislation that provides a path for reorganizing the federal government. This bill would modify that legislation. One change would be to allow the president to submit a reorganization plan that would provide for the “creation of a new agency that is not a component or part of an existing executive department or independent agency.”

The legislation would also eliminate the restriction in current law to create a “new executive department or renaming an existing executive department, publishing, or transferring an executive department…”

There are important changes as the law would be changed to incorporate significant portions of the new reorganization plan. For example, the new proposal would create a new agency called the Department of Education and the Workforce Department. This agency would combine the existing Department of Labor and the Department of Education into one agency with a new name.

Role of Congress

Under the new legislation, Trump would have 2 years after the bill is enacted to submit the reorganization plan to Congress. Congress would then have 90 days to approve changes. If the changes are not approved, the plan would not be implemented.

This bill would only make changes to what can be in the reorganization proposal, not how Congress will handle the proposal.

Of course, there is no guarantee this will become law, and if it does, it will take a long time before it is enacted.

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FEHB Options and Saving Money

saving

Several federal employees are saving money on their taxes simply by making smart choices with their FEHBP options. These choices include taking advantage of premium conversion benefits, where health insurance premiums are deducted on a pre-tax basis and participating in a flexible spending account.

Note—These benefits are only available to employees, not retirees.

Another way to save on taxes is to contribute tax-free dollars to a health savings account, which is available to both employees and retirees. HSA’s are like FSA’s in that money is set aside to pay for out of pocket health care expenses that are not subject to federal, state, FICA, or Medicare taxes.

However, HSA’s are different in many ways, such as:

  • You can only contribute to an HSA if you are covered by a high deductible health plan and have no other health insurance coverage. This includes Medicare Parts A and B and Tricare. Also, you must not have accessed VA benefits in the last 90 days.
  • HSA funds stay with you when you change plans, switch jobs, or retire. The money is yours.
  • The balance in your HSA can continue to grow each year as more money is added to the account.
  • After age 65, you can spend the money on anything, but if it’s not a healthcare expense, regular income tax will be due.
  • The account earns tax-free interest.
  • Funds can be invested outside of the HSA bank account in self-directed investment options to increase earnings potential.

There are limits on how much can be contributed annually to an HSA. For 2018, limits are set at $3,450 for individual, and $6,900 for family (including self + 1 option). Contributions can be made anytime throughout the year either by lump sum or periodic payments.

Tax Issues to be Aware Of

If you contribute above the annual limit, you can withdrawal the excess amount, and any earnings on it, before April 15 of the following year. Doing this will require you to pay a 6% income tax on your excess contributions and any earnings they generate.

If you decrease your max contribution, in the next year, by the amount of your excess contribution made the year before, you don’t have to pay the 6% excise tax again.

If you leave the excess contribution in and don’t decrease your max contribution by the amount of your excess contribution made the year before, you’ll have to pay the 6% excise tax every year the excess contributions and earnings are in your HSA account.

The tax benefit of an HSA is that you can receive tax-free distributions from your HSA to pay, or be reimbursed for, qualified medical expenses you incur after you establish the account. If you receive distributions for other reasons, the amount you withdrawal will be taxed as income and may be subject to an additional 20% tax.

When you establish an HSA account, you’ll need to file IRS Form 8889 with your tax return each year. It’s used to report HSA contributions, figure your HSA deduction, report distributions from your HSA, and compute amounts you must include in income and additional tax you owe.

HSA’s are valuable accounts to have if managed properly. However, not knowing the tax implications of these accounts can be costly if you’re not careful.

Harris Federal Law Firm assists federal employees with their Federal Disability Retirement claims. If you think you may qualify, call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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Inspectors General Agency?

inspectorsSen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has proposed a restructuring idea to move the 73 federal Inspectors General out from their agencies and into their own independent agency. She thinks this proposal would make the IG community an extension of Congress and the Government Accountability Office.

“If I were king of the world and could change this, I would make you an independent agency collectively, with assignments to various agencies, and accountable to Congress,” she said at a Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).

According to the Project on Government Oversight, 13 agencies don’t have a confirmed, permanent IG, and more than 10 of those have been without a permanent IG for over a year. “It doesn’t do much to talk about IG’s when you have 13 vacancies right now,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) said. “Let’s get a process so we know, regardless of administration, we have IG’s in every agency.”

“The IG’s are the last appointed in administration after administration,” Paul Light, a public policy professor at NYU said. “The main management positions are always late. So, part of the issue is, how do you get administrations to pay attention to the internal operations?”

Johnson said he supports limiting the number of president-appointed, Senate-confirmed positions to expedite the confirmation of IG’s.

“I think we have far too many confirmable positions in the Senate,” he said. “Any president ought to have the right to staff his administration with people that agree with his views. I would have maybe a couple hundred confirmable positions, not the thousand-plus positions that currently require Senate confirmation.”

Heitkamp said moving IG’s out from under the agencies they serve would give them more independence they need to conduct investigations.

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ALJ Hiring is Moving

alj

President Trump signed an executive order moving the hiring of administrative law judges from the competitive service to excepted service, giving the president and agency heads broader latitude in appointments.  It pulls ALJ’s out of the competitive service where they are vetted by the Office of Personnel Management, and into a more traditional appointment process.

James Sherk, special assistant to the president for domestic policy, says this order ensures these judges have the requisite authority to do their jobs without of appeal of their decisions based on how they were hired.

“This ruling potentially implicates the authority of ALJ’s across government, who have very similar degrees of authority at other agencies,” Sherk said. “[There] is now uncertainty over whether binding rulings can continue enforcement of the many different agencies across government. The executive order issued today addresses that uncertainty and ensures that they are hired in a manner consistent with the Appointment’s Clause.”

The new system will grant ALJ’s their own schedule E appointment structure and would do away with the current system of OPM providing agencies with a “list of 3” qualified candidates. Instead, it will allow agency heads to hire judges much like they already hire all federal attorneys. The order changes how judges are hired, not the merit systems principles that allow them to be independent and impartial once they’re hired.

According to OPM, most of the 1,900 ALJ’s work for the Social Security Administration. OPM Director Jeff Pon said the executive order “safeguards the efficiency of administrative courts”.

“By reducing legal uncertainty surrounding ALJ appointment and improving the efficiency of the process, the order will help agencies more effectively enforce laws that protect the American people,” Pon said. “This change addresses potential constitutional concerns with the ALJ appointment process without affecting ALJ’s decisional independence after they’re appointed.”

To read more about this, click on the link below.

Administrative Law Judge Hiring Moved Out of Competitive Service

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Is it Worth making a Military Service Deposit?

depositHaving active duty military service and an honorable discharge may help you receive more money each month and reduce the number of years you must work to become eligible for retirement.

How to Increase Your FERS Pension with Military Service

A provision in the Federal Employees Retirement System allows you to make a deposit, or “buy back”, your active duty military service and that time will count towards your FERS retirement. Creditable service is used to determine when you can retire and to calculate how much your monthly pension will be. Military service with a deposit counts as though you worked under FERS during that time—years, months, and even days are added to creditable service.

How Much is the Deposit?

The deposit is calculated based on 3% of your basic military pay, plus interest. If you pay your deposit within the first 3 years as a FERS employee, you won’t owe any interest on the deposit. However, if you’re past the 3-year mark, interest on the deposit builds each day you delay paying it.

How Much More Do You Get?

For each year of military service you “buy back”, your pension will increase by 1% of your High 3 salary under FERS, and even more if you’re at least 62 with 20 years of service at retirement (1.1%).

Here’s an example:

If you’re a FERS employee and retire at age 60 with 20 years of service, plus you buy back 4 years of military service, and you have a High 3 salary of $60,000, you will receive an additional $2,400 a year. So, in 10 years, that’s an extra $24,000; 20 years, $48,000; and 30 years, $72,000! That’s worth the buyback in this scenario.

Who Can Make a Deposit?

Any current FERS employee who has active duty military service with an honorable discharge—including reservists with active duty periods.

Caution!

If you’re receiving or will receive, an active duty military pension, it’s generally not advantageous to buyback military time.

Buying back military service can be very advantageous to your FERS retirement so long as you follow these rules.

Follow the link below to learn more:

What is Your FERS Military Deposit Worth in Retirement?

Harris Federal Law Firm helps federal employees with their Federal Disability Retirementclaims. If you think you may qualify, call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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A Ban of IRS Unions?

banThe Preventing Unionization of Revenue Service Employees, or PULSE, Act (H.R. 6268), introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), looks to block 70,000 federal employees from unionizing. The bill would specifically exclude IRS employees from provisions of Title 5 of the U.S. Code related to labor-management relations. It would effectively prohibit employees at the unions from unionizing or engaging in collective bargaining.

Gosar said his bill would piggyback on a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled public sector unions couldn’t collect mandatory fees from non-members. The ruling wouldn’t apply to federal unions because they’re already banned from collecting such fees.

“In line with this major win for the American taxpayer, my legislation would be a check against partisanship and union abuse, specifically at the IRS, and would help ensure that the employees within the agency enforce the law with integrity and fairness,” Gosar said.

In 2015, he introduced a similar bill with 24 cosponsors, but it never received a vote. He noted other federal agencies impose bans on unions, such as the National Security Agency and the FBI.

“Given the everyday functions of the IRS, there is no good reason why the agency shouldn’t be on the list,” he said. “This legislation is another step in the right direction toward stopping federal government tax collectors and other bureaucrats from unionizing and entering into collective bargaining agreements at the taxpayers’ expense.”

This measure continues to target federal employee unions.

“Like the president’s anti-labor executive orders, this is just another effort to deny working men and women basic rights in the workplace,” said National Treasury Employees Union (who represents almost all IRS workers) President Tony Reardon. “Over the years, NTEU and IRS have made improvements at IRS workplaces that make the agency more efficient and assisted more taxpayers. After losing 22,000 employees in the last 8 years and $700 million in funding, what the IRS really needs is more staff and resources to better serve the American public.”

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Is This the End of ICE?

ice

Some lawmakers are calling for the end of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) intends to introduce legislation to eliminate the agency. He made the announcement after a recent trip to visit the southern border. “I’m introducing legislation that would abolish ICE and crack down on the agency’s blanket directive to target and round up individuals and families,” he said. “The heartless actions of this abused agency do not represent the values of our nation and the U.S. must develop a more humane immigration system, one that treats every person with dignity and respect.”

Support for this is growing. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is working with Pocan on the bill and said, “The legislation as we’re drafting it now would actually set up a commission that would have a period to work on alternatives to how we redesign the functions of ICE and where we put them. And then ICE would be abolished at the end of that time with the best alternative being chosen.”

Opposition

While there is support for ICE to be eliminated, not everyone is Congress is so eager. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said, “If you abolish ICE, you still have the same president with the same failed policies. Whatever you replace it with is going to still reflect what this president wants to do.”

Some ICE employees have called for the agency to be split into 2 separate agencies amid the conversation.

“…the establishment of 2 separate and independent agencies will improve transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness,” wrote those employees in a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

President Trump has defended the agency and his administrations’ immigration policies which lie at the core of the debate about the agency. He said, “We have to have strong borders. We don’t want crime…The Democrats want to have no borders. They want to get rid of ICE.”

poll from Rasmussen found most voters randomly surveyed said they were opposed to eliminating ICE; 55% were opposed while 25% favored abolishing the agency. The poll noted opposition was higher among Republicans (69%) whereas it was 53% opposed among Independents and 44% among Democrats.

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