Tag Archives: office of personnel managment

The Shutdown Exceeding 30 days

days

Monday, January 21, 2019, marks the day that the shutdown has dragged on past the 30-day mark. This means agencies must send a 2nd furlough notice to non-excepted employees.

“After the first 30 days in a furlough status, agencies are required to deliver a 2ndfurlough notice to currently furloughed employees,” the Office of Personnel Management said. “When a shutdown goes beyond 30 days, agencies should treat it as a 2nd furlough and issue another adverse action and furlough notice.”

The original notices furloughed employees received on the first day of the shutdown expire January 21st. Most of the 300,000 furloughed employees received a message at the start of the shutdown saying, this furlough is not expected to exceed 30 days. Therefore, it expires on January 21.”

The new notices are to be delivered to affected employees either by email or U.S. mail, according to OPM. These 2nd notices will expire on February 19.

RIF’s

Agencies won’t conduct targeted layoffs, or Reductions in Force if the shutdown hits the 30-day mark. Federal statute instructs agencies to RIF groups of employees who have been placed on furlough status longer than 30 days. However, this does not apply during a government shutdown.

According to OPM, there are 2 kinds of furloughs— “administrative” and “shutdown, or emergency” furloughs.

Administrative

These are planned events by an agency “designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations,” OPM guidance says.

Shutdown or Emergency

These occur during lapses in appropriations and are out of the agency’s control.

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Direct Hiring Authority from OPM

authorityThe Office of Personnel Management announced it was adding new direct hiring authority for specific positions that have a critical need for additional talent. The memo was from OPM acting director Margaret Weichert and was sent to all agency heads.

This direct hiring will apply to Scientific, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), as well as Cybersecurity and related positions. The memo notes that agencies may appoint individuals into the occupations identified in the list of positions at the specific grade levels (or equivalent) nationwide. Individuals may be appointed to competitive service career, career-conditional, term, or temporary positions.

The Trump administration also announced it will create a series of new pay systems to reward certain groups of employees. They will do this using existing authority the federal government has never used before.

Weichert announced the new initiative as part of a package of steps she’s implementing in her new role to boost recruitment and retention efforts. This is along with the expedited hiring authority for the positions mentioned above.

“OPM is planning a number of administrative guidance and legislative changes, as well as ways to work and learn from the private sector through public-private partnerships, to get people into government to focus on the things the American people need,” she said. “Layers and years of statute and added regulation have made it very complex and very cumbersome to operate nimbly and agilely in the 21st century.”

She said the changes would improve enforcement of the federal government’s merit system principles.

The Special Occupational Pay Authority was created in the 1990 Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act, but OPM said it has never been used. The law states that the president’s Pay Agent, consisting of the secretary of the Labor Department and the directors of OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, can establish an alternative pay system for job categories in which the normal standards “do not function adequately.” The Pay Agent must post a proposal in the Federal Register, submit the suggestion to Congress, hold a public hearing, and consult with affected agencies and unions. The base pay under the alternative system is capped at Executive Schedule Level 5, which is $153,800 for 2018, but the law doesn’t prohibit locality pay on top of that.

OPM will issue its first alternative pay system for economists in the federal government. The agency called it a “high-risk, mission-critical” occupation in need of a “new approach” for pay. OPM has created an interagency working group to identify additional occupations for a new pay and classification system. They expect to create proposals for 3-5 additional jobs over the next year.

The STEM/IT direct hire authorities were initially launched under the former OPM director, Jeff Pon. “OPM is aware that individuals with the knowledge, skills, and ability to perform in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and cybersecurity occupations are in heavy demand and that this demand could, perhaps, be affecting mission-critical functions,” Pon wrote in a memorandum earlier this year.

The STEM authority will apply to positions involving cybersecurity and operations, computer network operations, information assurance, and diplomacy, military, and intelligence missions related to information and communication infrastructure. This authority will be finalized in regulations next week, while the IT authority will require a combination of regulations and power.

OPM is moving forward on its reorganization plan and has taken steps on the administration’s proposal to consolidate background checks within the Defense Department and move many of OPM’s transactional functions to the General Services Administration.

“Independence [of OPM], if it’s not delivering the actual mission, isn’t of the primary concern,” Weichert said. She has met with the top career leaders at OPM and is planning a “walk around” to meet each of the agency’s teams.

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What is Discontinued Service Retirement?

discontinued

Discontinued Service Retirement (DSR) is the only type of federal retirement that isn’t voluntary. You become eligible for DSR if you are separated against your will for reasons other than “misconduct or delinquency” and you meet the age and service requirements, which are:

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

*In both these cases, at least 5 of the years of service must be creditable civilian service.

The Office of Personnel Management makes the final determination as to whether the separation is involuntary. The following actions are generally considered to be involuntary:

  • Reduction-in-Force (RIF)
  • Lack of funds
  • Abolishment of position
  • Expiration of incumbent’s term of office
  • Unacceptable performance (unless due to misconduct)
  • Transfer of function outside of commuting area
  • Reassignment outside of the commuting area where no mobility agreement exists
  • Failure to continue to meet qualification requirements of the position (provided separation is non-disciplinary and action is initiated by the agency)
  • Separation during probation because of failure to qualify due to performance (not misconduct)
  • Separation of a National Guard technician because of loss of military membership or the rank required to hold the National Guard position
  • Removal from Sr. Executive Service for less than fully successful performance (under Title 5, U.S.C., Ch. 43, Subchapter II)

There is a distinct differentiation between separation due to unacceptable performance and separation due to misconduct. If you “can’t do”, you are more likely to be eligible for DSR than if you “won’t do”.

Even if your separation meets the above criteria, you won’t be able to be eligible for DSR if you decline a reasonable offer of a position. An offer is considered reasonable if it’s in the same agency, same commuting area, same tenure group and within 2 grades of your previous position.

DSR, like early retirement, provides for a 2% per year (1/6 of 1% per month) reduction in your pension for each year you are under age 55 if you are CSRS. A FERS DSR retiree (who isn’t a special category employee) will face no age-based reduction in pension but will not be eligible for cost-of-living adjustments until age 62.

For you to be eligible to retire under DSR provisions for either unacceptable performance or disability or illness, you must have received a decision of removal by your agency.

If you would like to discuss your options, please call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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Claims Processing at OPM

claimsIt’s no surprise that the Office of Personnel Management has a large backlog of retirement claims, including both regular retirement and disability retirement applications. When you submit your retirement application, you want to be 100% sure it’s complete and timely; this is especially important for disability retirement applications because there are deadlines to be aware of.

Receiving

When OPM receives your application, they will send you a letter with information about your claim and you’ll get your Civil Service Annuity (CSA) number. Your case will be assigned to a Legal Administrative Specialist (LAS), who makes the determination based on what you’ve submitted and if that meets the eligibility requirements:

  • You have 18 months creditable civilian FERS service.
  • While employed in a FERS position, you became disabled due to disease or injury for useful and efficient service in your current position.
  • Your condition is expected to last at least one year.
  • Your agency must certify its unable to accommodate your condition in your present 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 you are separated from your agency, or within one year thereafter.
  • You must apply for Social Security benefits.

Approval

Both you and your employing agency will be notified and at this point, your agency will separate you (if you are still working).

The Payment Processing Department at OPM will calculate your benefit and make any deductions for insurance and/or survivor benefits and Social Security (if applicable).

Denial

Again, you and your employing agency will be notified in the case of a denial. Remember that you do have appeal rights. If your application is denied at the initial level, you have 30 days to appeal OPM’s decision. This is called the Reconsideration stage. If you choose to appeal, a different LAS will be assigned to your case, and you’ll have the opportunity to submit supplemental evidence to strengthen your claim. OPM follows the same process if you are approved at this stage (as if you were approved initially).

If you get denied a second time, you again have 30 days to appeal. This time you appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This is a more formal process and OPM will assign an Administrative Judge to oversee the case. There will also be an attorney assigned to defend OPM’s decision.

It’s important to know you have appeal rights in the case of a denial at the initial level. To avoid this though, be sure you are submitting a complete and thorough application the first time.

Harris Federal Law Firm has secured over 2,000 approvals for our clients. We know this system very well and we represent you at all 3 levels (if needed). If you need help with your case, don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. Our consultation is always FREE. Remember, you have filing deadlines!

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Will OPM Implement Changes?

opm

While the Trump administration is moving forward with initial steps in reshuffling responsibilities for personnel management, it is also suggesting that it may not implement some of the most significant proposals. The Office of Personnel Management plans to shift its Human Resources Solutions division to the General Services Administration, as part of the first phase of reforms. Functions that would be relocated include OPM’s fee-for-service offerings such as HR consulting, training, occupational assessment tests and USAJobs.

Jeff Pon and Emily Murphy, directors of OPM and GSA respectively, are confident most of the shift can occur without legislation. The agencies plan to start implementing changes they have the authority to make over the next 3-4 months.

Pon said he doesn’t expect some of the more significant changes to begin until 2021, which includes relocating the administration of retirement processing and federal employee benefits. This includes the healthcare marketplace that serves more than 8 million worker, retirees, and their families.

Maybe one of the most controversial of the proposals is to move what remains of OPM to the White House, under the Executive Office of the President.

One senator said she was concerned that turning OPM into a policy shop at EOP would lead to “HR policy for career staff [being] based on politics and not on merit.” Pon said his role as OPM director would remain and the oath he swore to “be a defender of merit systems” would continue to guide him.

However, Pon said this change may not happen at all. “We’re seeing whether or not we need legislation for that to happen because of the independence that OPM has as the civil service leader and also the civil service and merit system principles enforcement wing of the government,” he said. “If we can move that to the executive office of the president, we will, but believe there needs to be more analysis as to whether that can happen without legislation, and if we do have legislation, does that make sense. And we’ll decide on that after we’ve had conversations with key stakeholders, interagency coordination, and so on.”

That OPM proposal has been met with widespread criticism, largely focused on the move to EOP, fearing it would undermine the non-partisan civil service.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. James Lankford, R-Ok., said the other ideas could hold merit given they were proposed with the proper intentions. “If these 3 OPM services can be transferred into GSA, it must be done to improve services to our federal workforce and to provide efficiencies from what many would equate as a merger,” he said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, said she wasn’t afraid of big ideas and Congress should be open. She did, however, voice concern that the OPM proposals would address the issues the agency faces. “One of the questions in a reorganization plan is what is the problem you’re seeking to solve, and how will this reorganization actually solve that problem,” she said. “Somehow just rearranging the chairs, or who sits where, in my opinion, doesn’t solve some of the problems that I see that need to be solved within OPM.”

“I want to be clear on one point,” Pon said. “This proposal is not a secret plan to fire civil servants. Rather, it’s an opportunity to elevate the federal workforce management function and maximize3 the operational efficiency of human capital services.”

Murphy said GSA was better equipped to handle the transactional services such as benefits, administrative and retirement processing because GSA is an “administrative office” and not a policy agency.

“Centralizing the transaction processing and IT for administrative functions of GSA, where it is our mission to provide excellent mission-support services, will allow for OPM to focus on their core strategic mission,” Murphy said.

Both agencies may run into trouble as they try to implement its plan unilaterally, as lawmakers are on the verge of passing a spending bill that would require congressional oversight for any reorganization actions taken by the agencies.

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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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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.

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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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What Employees Should Know About Teleworking

employees

Telework is a subject that has mixed reviews, and because of that, federal employees are hearing many mixed messages. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to create a telework plan, fulfill certain requirements, and encourage the use of the program.

The Office of Personnel Management conducted a work-life study that determined employees who take advantage of teleworking are more likely to perform at higher levels and be happier in their jobs than those who don’t telework. Still, the Department of Agriculture rolled back telework for more than 32,000 employees.

Below are a few common questions about telework.

Who Has the Ultimate Telework Authority?

OPM doesn’t have much power over telework. It provides policy guidance and consultation to agencies. They also assist agencies in establishing goals, but they can’t dictate telework policy to any agency.

The agencies themselves have more authority because they decide the range of telework possibilities for employees. They decide which positions are eligible for telework and those schedules. Agencies are also responsible for ensuring employees and managers complete telework training programs.

Further, they designate a Telework Managing Officer and ensure every teleworker has a written agreement outlining their specific plan. A TMO is a person within the agency who is accountable for the telework program. This person advises agency leadership and acts as OPM’s point of contact on telework matters. They also set goals and metrics that measure the success of the program.

What Do Supervisors Have Control Over?

Direct authority over employee individual telework agreements lies with the employees’ supervisor. While OPM’s guidance and provisions laid out in the Telework Enhancement Act apply uniformly to all agencies, at the employee level, telework is considered a privilege and is handled on a case by case basis.

Telework is entirely voluntary so supervisors can’t force anyone to participate. Supervisors have the final say over whether an employee can or can’t telework and they are also responsible for making sure teleworking employees are meeting their productivity requirements. Some agencies developed tools that can monitor teleworkers activity to ensure the employee isn’t abusing the program.

Supervisors can also suspend or terminate an employee telework agreement if they think the program is having an adverse effect on the employee or the organization performance.

What if You’re Denied Telework?

When a manager officially denies an employee telework, they must do so in writing, explain the reason for denial and they must include any appeals or grievance procedures. The employee can also contact a telework coordinator, who is responsible for routine implementation of telework at their agency.

Training Requirements for Telework?

Employees are required to complete telework training courses if they wish to participate. Managers must also undergo telework training. OPM makes courses and webcasts available for employees and managers to use in their training, including subjects like telework fundamentals, performance management, dependent care, and how to stay connected to the office.

The management training covers designing a telework program and effectively supervising telework employees.

These training courses seem great, however, a Government Accountability Office study found that 3 of the 4 agencies it looked at had no tool for verifying management had completed its training, nor did they require managers to complete the telework training before approving or denying employee telework requests.

So, Does Telework Have a Positive or Negative Impact?

An OPM report found teleworking employees are more likely to receive an “exceeds fully successful” rating than those who don’t. In addition, those who telework were significantly more satisfied with their job.

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