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SBA Demonstrates Ineffective Use of Early Federal Retirement Offers

Indexed Universal Life

retirement benefits

Report on Failure of Early Federal Retirement Offers

The failure of the Small Business Business Administration (SBA) to effectively execute the early federal retirement offers was highlighted in a recent report. This report was shared by the Inspector General of the agency. It stated that the effort made by the SBA to reshape its workforce via buyouts and early retirement was unsuccessful in achieving any of the goals it has set.

 The Beginning

In fiscal 2014, the SBA had requested the authority to make use of early federal retirement through its Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment program so that it could easily increase the population of early-career employees, address workforce skill gaps and manage budgetary constraints.

 The Mistakes

Though the three-pronged goals of the SBA were clear enough, it failed in the efforts because of the reason highlighted in the IG report. It states that the plan to implement early federal retirement lacked measurable objectives and included inaccurate information. SBA also failed to act on the proposals shared by a consulting firm that involved changing the SBA’s service model.

The Changes

During the efforts to hire better professionals, the agency ended up spending USD 2.1 million for employees who chose to retire early. However, even after their retirement, the positions largely remained the same. Through this program, the agency succeeded in vacating only 149 positions overall. Out of those, 54 were filled without making any meaningful changes to the job description or occupants’ responsibilities.

Sensible Suggestions

It’s clear that the SBA had failed to implement the program to achieve the desired results, the Inspector General has also shared a bit of advice on the matter.

He suggested that the agency should carry out a report entitled lessons learned in which it mentions the performance of the 2014 early federal retirement program. He also added that the agency must develop procedures to make sure that if any such programs are initiated in the future, they operate as per VERA and VSIP regulations. They should also be in accordance with the guidance shared by the Office of Personnel Management.

The Agreement

SBA officials have agreed with the report. They have also decided that they will implement the recommendations by September this year.

Conclusion

On the whole, it can be seen that though the aims of the early federal retirement program by the SBA were good enough, major flaws were seen in its implementation as the effort to renew federal workforce failed miserably. The positions and job descriptions remained the same even with the new hires which made the entire process quite unnecessary. Other agencies seeking to renew their own federal employee workforce by offering a retirement program would do well to learn from the mistakes made by SBA and not repeat the same themselves. Though SBA has admitted that it has made serious errors and has promised to implement the IG’s recommendations by September this year, it will be interesting to see whether it can do it by September or not,

OPM Catches Up on Federal Retirement Claims

Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is trying hard to clear off the backlog in the federal retirement claims and has done well in the last few months. Though the agency seems to be working hard to reduce the backlog since the results of the hard work put in for CLEARING the retirement benefits of each retired federal employee are not visible at a single glance. One has to dig in deep to notice the positive progress the agency has been making. Have a look at the progress to know that OPM is trying its best here.

retirement benefits

The Reason for Considerable Progress of Federal Retirement Claims in May 2017

Office of Personnel Management has succeeded in clearing about 3,000 federal retirement claims in May 2017. This has reduced the overall backlog to 16,140 claims which is also the lowest number to be achieved yet in 2017. It was 18,932 in April 2017 which shows an improvement of about 15 percent. The main reason for this considerable progress seems to be the fact that the numbers of new claims filed were lowest since December 2016.

 The Improvement

OPM has succeeded in processing nearly the same amount of claims in May that it did in April this year. But it has improved by 161 claims for a total of 8,340 last month. In May, the reputed agency received only 5,548 new claims which is a drop of more than 1,000.

Year on Year Comparison

When one compared the data of federal retirement claims in May 2017 with May 2016, it can be seen that the agency received 23 percent fewer claims but has succeeded in processing 8.4 percent more this year as compared to the previous year numbers. Despite all of this, the backlog is 13 percent more than it was at in May 2016, i.e., 14,035.

Better Speed of Processing

The agency has improved its speed of processing considerably as well, and it has played a pivotal role in curtailing the backlog. In April 2017, the agency had only managed to process 27 percent of the claims in 60 days or less than that. But in May 2017, this number was 44 percent.

The Main Hitch

Though no one can deny the fact that OPM is showing considerable improvement, the main issue remains the same. The agency has not reached the goal which is a backlog of just 13,000 claims. As per the strategic plan for processing retirement applications, if the staff had just 13,000 claims on hand, it will be able to adjudicate 90 percent of all the claims within just 60 days. But this goal seems too far-fetched given the fact that the last time the backlog was at 13,000 or even less than that, it was about one and a half years ago, in December 2015.

Repeating the Past

The latest numbers shared by OPM regarding the processing of federal retirement claims of federal employee shows a similar pattern that has been seen in the last few years. OPM always sees a sudden increase in retirement benefits claims in January and February as people prefer to retire in these months. This sudden increase boosts the backlog considerably, and while the staff works hard through the year to lower it only to see it spike again in the January of next year.

Church-Affiliated Hospitals May Be Exempt from Demands of Federal Retirement Income Law

The United States Supreme Court has decreed that a few church-affiliated hospitals can be exempt from the demands of the federal retirement income law. This decision was taken to ensure better religious freedom but critics believe that this ruling is not in favor of employees who may never get the retirement benefits they deserve and this decision could ruin their financial planning.

retirement benefits

 The Unanimous Decision on Applicability of Demands of Federal Retirement Income Law

The unanimous decision on the applicability of demands of federal retirement income law was taken by the US Supreme Court recently in which it highlighted that a group of three church-affiliated hospitals can be exempted from the demands of a federal retirement income law.

In an 8-0 decision released recently, the high court ruled that church agencies such as hospitals can qualify for the religious exemption in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The case regarding the ruling was Advocate Health Care Network et al. v. Stapleton et al.

The case has consolidated three detached lawsuits, Dignity Health v. Rollins, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan and Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton. All these cases involved the hospitals that are losing at the circuit court level.

Authoring the Opinion for the Court

Justice Elena Kagan authored the opinion for the Court regarding federal retirement income law.  Justice Neil Gorsuch was not included in the ruling since he was not involved in the proceedings. Kagan wrote that ERISA provides that a church plan means a plan that is established and maintained by a church is to include a plan maintained by a principal purpose organization.

Under the best reading of the statute, a plan that is maintained by a principal purpose organization, therefore, qualifies as a church plan not considering of who established it. The court opted for reversing the judgments of the Courts of Appeals.

Concurring Opinion

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written a concurring opinion regarding the decision on federal retirement income law in which she explained that while she agreed with the opinion of the majority, she was still troubled by the result of the ERISA law exemption. She appreciated the court’s opinion by saying that she was persuaded that it correctly interprets the pertinent statutory text. However, she was nevertheless troubled by the outcome of these cases because she thinks such decisions may lead to denial of ERISA’s protections for scores of employees who work for organizations which look and operate similarly to secular businesses.

Multiple Lawsuits

In the last few years, there have been many lawsuits directed at various religiously-affiliated hospitals concerning the accusation of underfunding employee pension plans. As per an article by Bloomberg BNA in 2016, many of these suits resulted in settlements in which the hospitals have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to plaintiffs.

Bloomberg also reported that in May 2016 Connecticut’s Saint Francis Hospital doled out USD 107 million as a settlement. In August 2017, the Trinity Health Corp. made a USD 75 million deal with the workers. Alabama’s Baptist Health System Inc. also offered USD 11 million to its workers in August after making USD 89 million worth of pension contributions. Ascension Health settled claims for USD 8 million in 2015. The last two rulings are as per court filings.

Even in last October, Providence Health & Services had to pay USD 350 million in a settlement. It was the largest settlement in cases of this nature.

Critics’ Opinion

Americans United for Separation of Church and State also echoed the concerns of Sotomayor by releasing the statement regarding the Court rulings. It stated that the hospitals must not be allowed to drain the employee pension funds just because they have a religious affiliation. After all, religious freedom is an elementary American value with pensions and retirement as an elementary part of the American dream.

Appreciating the Court Ruling

The First Liberty Institute has celebrated the high court ruling regarding federal retirement income law as FLI Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield stated that the decision was in line with the country’s history of religious freedom. The ruling of the Supreme Court respects great history and tradition allowing mosques, churches, synagogues and other religious ministries to follow their religious mission without having to deal with the weight of government bureaucracy and regulation hampering their efforts or intruding upon their mission.

Conclusion

It is quite clear that the ruling of the US Supreme Court regarding federal retirement income law has created quite a stir as some people appreciate it while some are criticizing it. However, it is quite clear that the employees working for Church-Affiliated Hospitals might be hit hard by it because they may lose their retirement benefits and their financial planning for retirement may be ruined.

Proposals to Cut Down Federal Employee Benefits and Federal Retirement Benefits Strongly Opposed

new update

The proposals to reduce federal employee benefits and federal retirement benefits included in the budget prepared by President Trump have been severely criticized by various factions of society. Now, people are coming forward and speaking about how the proposed changes would make life difficult for retirees, federal workers, and employees covered by FERS.

federal employees 

Letter Opposing Proposals to Cut Down Federal Employee Benefits and Federal Retirement Benefits

A letter was recently written to oppose the plans to reduce federal employee benefits and federal retirement benefits and thirty unions & associations that represent federal employees and retirees have joined in it. The letter was addressed to Congress, and it was emphasized that the proposed changes would make it harder for people to afford to retire and hence they would have no option but to work longer. It will further reduce the savings of government and delay the career progression of the younger employees who are ready to take on greater responsibilities at work.

The Cost of the Proposals

While many people are defending the proposals to cut down federal employee benefits and federal retirement benefits by saying that it will help the government to save a lot of money, people are barely paying attention to the fact that these proposals, if implemented would cost USD 149 billion to federal employees and retirees over a period of more than 10 years and the amount will increase after the said time span because the losses would compound over time.

Breaking a Promise

The proposed increase in compulsory contributions toward retirement by FERS-covered employees was termed as nothing more than a pay cut. The benefit cutting aspects such as reducing COLAs for CSRS retirees or ending them for all FERS retirees, ending the FERS supplement that is being paid to retirees until they become eligible for social security at the age of 62 and basing new annuities on high-5 salary rather than high-3 are some steps that renege on the government’s commitments to its former and current employees regarding the pensions they get in exchange for their long careers as well as the hard work they put in.

Democrats’ Stance

The unions and associations representing feds and retirees are not alone in opposing proposals to reduce federal employee benefits and federal retirement benefits. Approximately 100 House Democrats have also sent a similar letter to the leaders of both parties. The letter says that there should not be any major change in policies because scores of families have planned a life around these policies. Policies that impact the current retirees should particularly not be changed because these people have limited ability to make up for an unforeseen decrease in the income they expect.

No Certainty Yet

The annual budget cycle is off to a late start, and it is not certain whether Congress would try to pass a budget blueprint that could take positions on issues about retiree and federal benefits or whether it will focus only on the appropriations bills.

Conclusion

It is quite clear that a significant number of people are against the proposals to reduce federal employee benefits and federal retirement benefits. These people are showing their anger by properly communicating with the relevant authorities. However, they have not got something to lay their hopes on yet. If the reductions occur, they will badly impact the lives of retirees, federal workers, and employees covered by FERS who have already dedicated their lives to hard work or those who planned to do so in the future.

Your Children May Live With You Some More Years

Your Children May Live With You Some More Years

Capture Them in Your Retirement Plan

 

Researches reveal the increasing number of young adults still living with their parents even when they finally come of age. Most young people tend to return to their parents instead of creating their residence and home after a remarkable achievement in their life, like at completion of military service or graduation from college.

 

According to a recent research conducted by Pew Research Centre, about 32.1% of people between the ages of 18 to 42 years are still living with their parents, rather than their partner or spouse in their own home, a leap from the 20% as at 1960. In the research, 36% were either married or living with friends outside their parent’s home, 14% were living alone; either single or as a single parent and 22% had some other special housing arrangement like college housing.

 

There are several contributors to this dramatic increase in the number of youngsters still living in their parent’s home. First of them is the postponement or termination of marriage plans. A disturbing number of young people are running away from the idea of marriage.

 

Also, unemployment and low income have contributed a high percentage to the number of youth still living under their parent’s roof; particularly the young men. Employed young men are more likely to leave their parents and live independently than their unemployed counterparts. Sadly, the unemployment rate has dramatically increased in recent times.

 

In simpler terms, the tendency of your adult child to be under your roof is not only high; they may contribute little or no financial assistance to the home.

 

The bulk, however, falls back to the parent who begins to make unplanned expenses even as they approach or enter retirement. Based on your current financial status, this could make you work longer; engaging in full or part-time jobs to make ends meet, even after retirement from civil service.

Although your federal retirement benefits may come in handy here, it may not do much. Hence it is good to know how far it can go.

 

It is perhaps important for you to put up your adult child on your Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) family registration, pending when they turn 26. Although the insurance package may still be extended a further 3 years, this is usually at a higher cost.

Also, the FEDVIP vision-dental health scheme can also cover your child, but not after they attain 22 years. This program, however, has several restrictions, and there is no provision for coverage extension.

 

SO what happens at death? The benefit a child gets has several cutoff dates. This benefit continues until the age of 18. Some exceptions, however, include:

 

  • For full-time students, the annuity cover the child till he/she clocks 22 years, but benefits cease if the child dies, moves to a non-recognized school, gets married,  ceases to be a full-time student, is unable to tender proof, when required of full-time studentship, or when enlisted in active military service or Academy.

 

  • Where a child is disabled in anyway that makes it impossible for him/her to offer self-support and one that started before the child reached 18, the child will continuously receive the annuity for life – except if the child becomes healthy, marries, or regains ability for self-support.

 

  • In some other schemes that have survivor/death benefits, the child’s living arrangement and age doesn’t count. This means that you can designate anyone as a beneficiary of your FEGLI regardless of age and living situations. There are exceptions though in situations where the insurance was particularly “assigned” to a number of beneficiaries – usually affected by a divorce order.

 

Hence, Uncle Sam may not offer so much assistance. The truth still stands: the primary responsibility of catering for your children, pending when they are financially capable and independent, falls back on the shoulders of the parents.

How to Submit Your ‘Healthy’ and Complete Federal Retirement Application

How to Submit Your ‘Healthy’ and Complete Federal Retirement Application

If you are currently going through the process of planning your retirement, you will need to submit a complete federal retirement application, but the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suggests making it ‘healthy’. For example, this describes a form that is complete from the very top while containing the right signatures and dates. With all questions asked on the form, you should provide full answers as well as check the appropriate boxes.

Avoid Common Problems – According to OPM, there are some common issues that arise for many including the survivor election chapter; this needs to be filled regardless of your relationship status. For example, consent must be given by the spouse if a married applicant were to elect less than a full survivor annuity. Furthermore, the section regarding court orders must still be addressed even if there is no order.

Elsewhere, you’ll also need to list all periods of creditable civilian and military service; for the latter, you’ll need a Form DD-214. If you happen to be taking an early retirement or perhaps even discontinued service retirement, there will be additional documentation to complete. Finally, the forms require you to provide information regarding your FEHB status and whether any of your policies will continue into retirement. For example, individuals need to have worked in federal employment for five years before their retirement date. If you also want to remain eligible for FEGLI, you need to prove your coverage for the previous five years here too.

As you can see, a healthy retirement application can be difficult to achieve so take your time, don’t feel the need to rush the process, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you feel your application would benefit.  Oftentimes a qualified financial professional is the best solution to your lack of knowledge.  But make sure you find a highly-trained and knowledgeable federal employee financial planner.

Finding the Balance with TSP Contributions with David Chan

Finding the Balance with TSP Contributions
By David Chan

When you work for the federal government, there are all sorts of advantages you can enjoy and receiving a matching TSP contributions is only one of them. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) allows a certain amount of money to be paid your way after choosing to retire. However, there are still thousands who don’t choose to contribute into their TSP because of one main reason; it is not mandatory. With FERS, Social Security and the FERS Annuity are an automatic part of the federal employee’s retirement package, whereas the TSP option is something federal employees can opt out of.

With your FERS annuity, nobody can avoid the 0.8% payment from your salary just as he or she can’t prevent the 6.2% charge for Social Security. Regardless of how close or far away you are from retirement, these two outgoings will remain for years to come yet there isn’t such a demand on you to pay into your TSP…but should you be contributing anyway?

If we use an example, let’s say a female employee works for a federal agency for 30 years with a salary starting at $60,000. Each year, she experiences a 1% increase in salary for the entirety of her career. For the first ten years of her career, she chooses not to pay into the TSP. For the next twenty, she changes this to 5% of her earnings (which is then matched by the government). If we use the TSP Calculator available through TSP.gov, this comes to over $250,000 at retirement. Considering no contributions were made during the first ten years, this is quite impressive.

On the other hand, her friend and colleague contributes 5% from the very first day and continues on this path for thirty years; with the same salary. Pl ugging the different numbers into the same calculator, it comes to just short of $460,000. As you can see, this is a huge difference, and it increases to over $900,000 with a simple change in contribution from 5% to 15%.

From this, we hope you see that the best retirement is always made in the early years. If you start investing now, no matter how far away your retirement may seem, you will have earned a fantastic nest egg by the time the magical date comes. Feel free to check out the TSP Calculator online where you can play around with different contribution percentages to see what you need to save to reach your goal by retirement!

David Chan
David Chan

Contact David Chan:

Phone: (510)440-7110

Email: [email protected]

Congress Yet To Deal With Budget Plan That Affects Federal Retirement Benefits

Congress Yet To Deal With Budget Plan That Affects Federal Retirement Benefits

 

 

The House’s recess has just started and will continue until after Labor Day – the Senate isn’t that far behind. Moreover, as of now, there has been no floor vote taken in regards to a budget plan that would cut federal retirement benefits, as suggested by the Trump Administration.

 

As it currently stands, the budget resolution is just a planning document.  It needs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to come up with $32 billion in shortfall cutbacks during the next 10 years in programs it has control over.

 

The way the goal is to be attained is raising a number of contributions employees make to their retirement benefits and getting rid of the Special Retirement Supplement that people in FERS get if they retire before 62 years old and cannot draw their Social Security benefits.

 

The resolution didn’t touch the other multiple proposals noted in the White House budget plan, which bases the future retirees’ benefits on their highest five-year salaries, not the present three highest. It also didn’t touch on decreasing the COLA for CSRS retirees or getting rid of COLA for civil service employees on FERS benefits.

 

The Oversight committee can deal with these matters since they have the full discretion of how to attain the target.

 

Of course, when this process starts is anyone’s guess, as House Republicans have been unable to hold a floor vote because of other disagreements. A group of 10 House Republicans asked the committee to reject all proposals in similar fashion to the letter sent to the House leadership. Roughly 100 House Democrats and 18 Senate Democrats sent letters similar to their leaders.

 

In the House resolution, there would be a partial hiring freeze set in place with the idea to reduce the workforce by 10% for an undetermined amount of time.

 

In the meantime, the House Republican Study Committee came up with a budget plan on their own, which stated their positions, not an actual measure that could be voted upon. Some of their recommendations included increasing the retirement contributions and basing the COLA on another inflation index (one that would lead to minute increases).

 

The proposal also endorses a shift in how the government contributes to the FEHB premiums contribution. Right now, the contribution is in percentages, but they are requesting it be made in dollars. According to an analysis of that plan, enrollees would end up paying more. People in the lowest-cost plan may benefit from this switch.

Federal Employees Get New Thrift Savings Plan Withdrawal Options

Federal Employees Get New Thrift Savings Plan Withdrawal Options

The Thrift Savings Plan is a retirement plan prepared for military personnel and federal employees.  The retirement plan forms part of Federal Employees’ Retirement Systems Act of 1986. The funds and tax benefits workers get from The TSP is similar to a 401(k) package offered to private employees.

On the occasion of TSP’s 30-years anniversary in April 2017, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del) passed a bill to update the TSP’s terms with related programs. In particular, the bill seeks to increase investment and thrift savings plan withdrawal options and alternatives.

For example, among the five funds available with TSP, tracking global stock will be expanded to involve new markets and Canada in 2019. The update is also making efforts at giving account holders access to invest in funds besides the current offer.

Other legislations before Congress offer federal employees, as well as servicemen and women in active service (and are not below 59 1/2 years), access to more post-retirement alternatives. Because of the limited current withdrawal options, hopes are high that this shift will offer more flexibility and free will in respect to how workers manage their retirement savings

A wide variety of TSP concerns in the federal retirement practice includes requirement and guidelines for withdrawal, divorced retirees who are asked to share their benefits with an ex-spouse.

Also, federal workers and service men who retire for special reasons may still have their TSP accounts open. Unfortunately, they will be unable to contribute more to their TSP account, but TSP funds may be transferred to certain tax-favored packages like IRA.

The fund transfer deadlines and other rules are typically difficult to comprehend, but we are, however, hopeful that the new investment and withdrawal options come with extra financial stability and as well as better comprehension of the provisions of the federal retirement plans.

 

Indiana Republican Brings Forth Legislation To Designate Federal Employees As At-Will

Indexed Universal Life

Indiana Republican Brings Forth Legislation To Designate Federal Employees As At-Will

 

 

Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita
Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita

Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita introduced legislation once again that would classify new federal employees as “at-will.”

 

He introduced the bill in September 2016, but it died in the previous Congress. However, the congressman wanted to reintroduce the bill dubbed “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency,” and it’s causing an uproar with federal employee unions and groups.

 

A majority of the legislation applies to federal employees who are hired on or the first year of the bill is passed and enforced. The legislation reads that an employee can be suspended or removed without the right to an appeal or notice by the agency head even if the employee was hired for good cause, no cause or bad cause.

 

At-will employees can go to the Office of Special Counsel or Merit Systems Protection Board, in some cases, to fight their demotion, suspension or removal.

 

The legislation reads that an applicant for employment can appeal the decision to one agency and cannot bring any other agency into the appeal. Every agency has been asked to come up with their own guidelines to implement the bill’s provisions. The agencies will need to figure out how to let employees know about their at-will status, who would be granted permission to remove these workers and how to ensure the fired or suspended employees are not discriminated against.

 

In January, the American Federation of Government Employees informed their members about the PAGE Act and said the bill would make civil service a political issue. Some PAGE Act provisions are not new, as Congress has written up bills similar to it. It’s the PAGE Act that takes things a bit further… all in the name of accountability.

 

While the strictest provisions are aimed at new employees, there are other PAGE Act provisions that target the senior executives and present employees.

 

Abrupt Suspensions

 

According to the legislation, agency heads are granted permission to abruptly suspend a current employee for poor performance or misconduct. They would have to give said employees a written notice, citing the reasons for the action within 10 days of the suspension.  Employees are allowed to respond and give supporting evidence of why they should not be suspended. They can hire an attorney and look at the case.

 

Employees can also seek help from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

 

Pay Increases

 

According to the legislation, federal employees will not get a yearly pay increase for certain situations.  Employees will only get their raise if they receive a four out of five rating for their performance. About 50% of employees in an agency must get four of five to receive their pay raises.

 

Convicted Felony Employees

 

Any employee who has been convicted of a felony that related to the position’s performance must give up some of their retirement annuity. Any creditable service time will no longer count toward their annuity. The provision is applied to employees who resign or retire from Federal service.

 

Senior Executives

 

Based on the legislation, agency heads can move current employees to the General Schedule from the Senior Executive Service but provide no reason as to why they came up with that decision. Any transfer means they get the pay related with that new General Schedule position.

 

Official Time

The bill is also looking at limiting official time. Federal employees can do union work if only done in a nonduty status. It clearly explains that employees who collect dues, seek out new membership or take part in union election activity maintain accurate records for two years or the collective bargaining unit’s term. If there are any Freedom of Information Act requests, these records will be brought forth.

 

Many lawmakers have brought forth bills similar to this one with an effort to gain insight into how official time is used or how much of it is used.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee may vote on any of these bills soon. The Committee is looking at legislation that demands OPM to provide a yearly report to Congress about its official time in regards to federal employees.

 

A look at the fiscal 2014 year, bargaining unit employees tended to use a bit more official time, compared to just two years earlier. They spent a little more than 3.4 million hours of official time – individually, that equates to less than three hours.

SEC Puts Out Warning To TSP Investors and Participants Of Scam

SEC Puts Out Warning To TSP Investors: Federal Employee Benefits Counselors Scam

 

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has warned investors and participants in the Thrift Savings Plan about a scam directed at federal employees by former members of the Federal Employee Benefits Counselors organization.

 

The SEC has already filed fraud charges on four former Federal Employee Benefits Counselors for creating an impression of being affiliated with or had federal government or TSP approval.

 

According to the SEC, the brokers allegedly swayed federal employees to roll their TSP account funds into higher-fee variable annuities. With the 200 variable annuities worth about $40 million, they earned around $1.7 million in commission.

 

SEC Atlanta Regional Office Associate Director Aaron Lipson said the brokers were driven by the potential of higher commissions while they targeted federal employees older than 59 years of age. Moreover, they deliberately hid relevant information when they suggested they purchase the various annuities.

 

The SEC said the brokers allegedly convinced these federal employees that they were permitted to solicit and provide advice about their TSP and retirement savings accounts. However, doctored and incomplete transaction forms with no information about the investment were sent to TSP investors. They also had no connection to the TSP.

 

This is just the latest scam targeting current employees and retirees of the federal government. Retirees were subjected to two additional plots in just 2017 only.

 

In June, the Office of Personnel Management warned the workforce of companies’ aggressive marketing push. The offer of cash payments for some or all of the annuity payments. The agency also warned them in March of a government imposter scam that threatened to end a person’s retirement if the retiree didn’t send an immediate payment.

 

SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy Chief Counsel Owen Donley said scammers tend to go after people who can supply them with large sums of cash, and TSP investors are often a target.  Which is what these former Federal Employee Benefits Counselors affiliates appear to have done.  He said it’s not surprising that federal employees are targets because the money is there.

 

Donley said scammers target certain groups of folks – what is known as affinity fraud. He said it could be a religious community, the military or even retirees. Donley said every year the fraud targets various groups.

 

What Can You Do?

 

There are things you can do to protect yourself and your investments from being scammed.

 

  • Be wary should you get a phone call or message that appears to come from a group that claims to have federal government approval or an affiliation. Donley said no federal agency – the TSP included – will go a person to push for a service or product. He said it’s a red flag if this communication takes place. The SEC advises federal government employees and retirees to reach out to the TSP first to see if the offer is legitimate.

 

  • Never provide your personal information during this time. Federal organizations will not ask for your password, social security number or account number during unsolicited messages or phone calls.

 

  • SEC advises employees and retirees to learn about the different investment options and what the terms and conditions are for each of them. When a person is aware of the existing opportunities, it helps them to know what it and isn’t legit.

 

Donley said there are some short-term investment opportunities and some that are not. He said some investment options have charges and surrender fees if used within the first two years. Donley said retirees must be aware of the possible outcomes.

 

Since making investment decisions is a bit complex, it’s advised that federal employees get advice from their financial planners.

 

The SEC recommends federal employees to work with only a registered and licensed financial investment professionals. The agency has a database on its website that helps federal employees to find out about an investment professional quickly.

 

Donley said older Americans have turned to using social media for some interaction.  The agency is giving some advice about social media use. Donley said some people are not careful with their privacy settings, which means scammers can learn all kinds of information about where they live, their interests, etc. He said it’s this information that scammers use to lure investors into providing them with a false sense of security with their account information.

 

The Federal Employee Benefits Counselors organization has issued a statement suggesting that they are blameless in the actions of their affiliated professionals.  The Courts have yet to rule on the issue and the SEC has not yet responded to the Federal Employee Benefits Counselors statement.

WIFLE Conference Held In Houston With Talks On The Importance Of Retirement Financial Planning

WIFLE Conference: The Importance Of Retirement Planning for Federal Employees

 

 

The Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) recently met in Houston for the yearly leadership training conferences and offered good insight into the importance of retirement planning for federal employees. Here, the women talk about the various challenges that come with their often dangerous jobs.  Along with the training sessions, the program holds awards ceremonies that honor the ladies’ courage, outstanding service, and bravery.

 

The women are proud of their jobs and are grateful to the law enforcement women who came before them.  The event is an eye-opener to any who go as to why these federal employees deserve to get their retirement benefits after they have completed their public service so dedicatedly.

 

It helps those attending the WIFLE to understand that the retirement benefits and future planning are just as important to new employees as it is to the veterans who are midway in their career. It is certainly on the minds of those prospective retirees.

 

There is a strict mandatory retirement age of 57 for federal law enforcement officers. If officers are retiring in their 50’s and don’t plan on a second career anytime soon, they need to make some plans way ahead of their retirement time.

 

The younger workforce needs to understand why it is so important to think retirement planning for federal employees early in their career. Failure to do this means making mistakes that could be difficult to address when a person is so close to retirement age.

 

The WIFLE audience comprised of people who are covered under FERS (Federal Employee Retirement System). It is important that these people understand how the FERS basic retirement benefit, Social Security and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) will give them an income when they’re no longer working.

 

Some women at the WIFLE first began their federal careers in the military and then went into civilian federal service workforce. This meant they could fulfill their service requirement before they can retire. However, a longer career would give them more time to save and for their savings to increase. On top of that, more time in the federal service means a better FERS retirement benefit.

 

During the WIFLE conference, people exchanged stories about retirees they knew who took the lump sum from the TSP accounts to pay debt off – eliminating student loans or mortgages. However, that’s not always the best thing to do.

 

Bob Leins with the National Institute of Transition Planning informed attendees that it was ill-advisable to withdraw a lump sum of money to pay off a large mortgage balance. Why? The TSP withholds 20% for the federal tax pre-payment, which means a person may not have enough to pay the full tax obligation.  A person may find that they owe as much as 15% more federal tax for that withdrawal.

 

Leins suggested retirees use the TSP monthly payments to make their mortgage payments like they were doing when they were working. He also suggested talking to a financial adviser to learn about allocating and rebalancing withdrawal from various investments.

 

It’s extremely important that people pick their advisor. The SEC said undisclosed fees, conflicts and overcharges have become a habitual theme in commission cases pertaining to investment advisers. In fact, the SEC recently charged four former Atlanta area brokers for fraud that involved convincing federal employees in rolling their TSP account holdings over into variable annuity products with a higher fee.

 

The WIFLE conference is an eye-opener to any who attend. It’s a place for people to lean onto one another for support. It doesn’t matter what the reason – if it’s for getting justice in the community in which they live or to better understand the way to have a safe financial future.

How Your Benefits are Affected After Annulment, Divorce, or Separation

How Your Benefits are Affected After Annulment, Divorce, or Separation

 

With federal employment, the benefits you receive can be a fantastic motive to keep working hard and progressing up the ladder. However, things in life change and your personal circumstances might change with them, so today we want to assess exactly what happens to your federal retirement benefits if you get an annulment, divorce, or go through a separation.

 

FEHB Benefits In Divorce

 

Before the End of Marriage – If you’re separated and haven’t yet finalized the annulment or divorce, your ex-partner is eligible to continue their FEHB coverage as long as you’re under the self plus one or self and family policy.

 

After the End of Marriage – Once the divorce or annulment has been finalized, your ex-partner’s coverage will end at midnight of the same day; even if a court order previously installed the coverage. This being said, they will have three options if they want to continue their health coverage;

 

In terms of your own coverage, this will remain largely the same except your policy will change to ‘self-only’; of course, this could differ if a court order requires you to keep coverage in place for one or more children. Furthermore, you can even decide to change to a different plan if it better suits your goals moving forward. If you want to keep your children on the plan, the self and family option will still be available to you in addition to the self plus one (if there’s only one family member to cover).

 

To get started with any changes you wish to make, you first need to file a Standard Form 2809 with your agency personnel within 60 days of your divorce or annulment. If you’ve already retired, you can return the form to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM); this form can be found on the appropriately-named forms section of the OPM website.

 

FEGLI & Other Benefits In Divorce

 

The Beneficiary and FEGLI – With your Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program, you will have appointed a beneficiary at the very beginning, and this determines who would receive the benefit if you were to pass away.  You may want to make adjustments to your FEGLI after divorce, and this can be achieved by filling out a Standard Form 2823; again, this can be found on the OPM website.

 

When making this change, you will need to adhere to any court orders; for instance, it might suggest that your former partner needs to stay as the beneficiary on any policies you have.

 

Survivor Annuity – When in marriage, the law requires you to set up a survivor annuity for your partner, but this responsibility comes to an end with the marriage itself. However, you should still inform the appropriate bodies of your change in relationship status to avoid confusion and mistakes; this includes the OPM or your agency.

 

Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP)- Similar to FEHB coverage, your vision, and dental cover can also be decreased to self-only. After your divorce, you’ll want to make this change as soon as possible (within 60 days) because otherwise you’ll have to wait for the next annual benefits open season; in the meantime, your premiums will remain at the higher rate. Unlike FEHB coverage, there are no options for your former spouse and no FEDVIP coverage will be available for them. When making changes, ensure all the details are filled out carefully, so they remain correct for the next period of your life.

 

Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program – As long as you continue paying the premiums each period, your Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program will remain in place. Unfortunately, your ex-partner cannot be installed into the program if they weren’t already involved at the time of the divorce or annulment. If their name was on the program, this will continue as normal.

 

Flexible Spending Accounts – When you go through a divorce or annulment, this event will trigger an open period for you to make adjustments to your flexible spending accounts.

 

Thrift Savings Plan – Finally, the event will also trigger an award from a TSP account to any other account, which means funds can be transferred to a partner or ex-partner.

 

There you have it! All the changes you can be expected after separation, divorce, or annulment. If you need help or more information, feel free to research online or ask a professional.

Phased Retirement Is Your Friend – Says GAO

Phased Retirement Is Your Friend – Says GAO

The phased retirement program has not been as successful as the Government Accountability Office (GOA) wanted because the number of people enrolled is still very small compared to expectations.  However, the increase to 259 from a mere 90 in August 2016 can be considered to be a significant improvement. Even if the government’s projections for the plan were not met, the GAO states that it is mainly because of the unawareness of the people regarding how it works for you.

Phased retirement is a gradual retirement plan where the person approaching the age of retirement can start reducing the number of hours he works step by step. The GAO found that there have been significant problems relating to the Internal Revenue Service by the usage of phased retirement plans, but those organizations which can monitor their employees and make sure that they do not illegally use the service can significantly provide benefits to both the management sector and the workers.

For the management, it is understood why keeping aging people until the very end is important. The GAO interviewed nine organizations which had introduced phased retirement plans, and the overall perception it was able to extract was that the knowledge and experience offered by the aging workers to the newly hired people requiring training is quite invaluable. Moreover, it was found that organizations start to have impending retirements piled up every year and they had to let go of incredible experience without having found proper replacements, which is quite the dreaded scenario for any organization.

Overall, the GAO says that the transition of workers from a job that required around 8 hours every day to perhaps 4 before finally taking retirement is beneficial for the employees. They do not have to go through a sudden slump in income, and for the organization, they are not burdened with requests for retirements at the start of every fiscal year when replacement employees have not been found.

New Retirement Benefits Planned But The Path Has Not Been Confirmed

New Retirement Benefits Planned But The Path Has Not Been Confirmed

With the start of the new fiscal year in October, a newly adopted policy will result in employees paying more towards their retirement benefits. This includes employees of the Federal Employees Retirement System who opt for retirement before the age of 62.

The plan is officially named “H. Con. Res. 71” and was recently passed by Congress in light of recent discoveries about the declining trend of the Federal Reserve. This plan, although outlined in sufficient detail, has many problems regarding its implementation because a lot of the departments of the Government’s financial sector will need to be settled.

This Congress bill has faced opposition not only from the Democrats who lost their presidency last November but also from some of the less extremist and easy-going sectors of the House Republicans. The problem which has been pointed out is quite simple to understand; getting federal workers to pay more for the retirement benefits for people in the future means that overall whatever will be obtained from the new policy will be quite redundant. This means that even though the potential $32 billion dollars that can be collected by the Federal Reserve in the next ten years seems quite appealing – it will end up being spent for the same cause which ultimately raises the questions of, why should those working in this decade suffer?

The only step that seems clear shall begin from the White House where the elimination of the special doubled benefit acquired by FERS employees shall take place. The new policy already has documented opposition by the name of (HR-3269), which is a bill backed by employee organizations, which calls for the elimination of the need for FERS employees hired after 2012 to pay more into the retirement system than those hired before.

State Commissioners In Standstill Mode Over Government Bickering Affordable Care Act

State Commissioners In Standstill Mode Over Government Bickering About the Affordable Care Act

 

States are faced with uncertain times – will the government pay the funds needed to assist consumers in paying for their coverage on the Affordable Care Act exchanges?  This means a guessing game, and, if the wrong decision is made, it could leave thousands of their residents without coverage or unable to attain access to healthcare.

 

With states in the final months of finalizing rates for the 2018 open-enrollment season, the Trump administration’s idea of funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments is on a month-by-month basis. Also, is causing some uneasiness with state regulators and insurers.

 

Oklahoma’s Deputy Commissioner of Health Insurance Mike Rhoads said the administration is the one controlling the panic button. He stated that they could just stay paying for the plans whenever they want.

And, it’s not just Oklahoma’s insurance officials that are worried.

 

According to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ spokesman, the health insurance market has never seen this high of uncertainty level.

 

Regulators from all 50 states and the District of Columbia said they have three choices they can make:

  • Two drafted plans – one where the CSR is there and the other where it is not.
  • Planning for no help at all or plans that believe the CSR will still be there.
  • Filing rates under the assumption that the CSR will be abolished.

 

According to William Custer, Georgia State University director of the Center for Health Services Research and associate professor, the wrong assumption could mean insurers dropping people’s coverage.

 

Roughly 38 states and the District of Columbia have said they are going with plans to assume CSRs or offered no help at all (allowing the plans to decide how to move forward).

 

Seven other states have seen insurance companies come up with two rates and six states have seen companies file with no CSRs.  Plans that assume payments will be there are most at risk, will the consumers.

 

Alliance of Community Health Plans CEO Ceci Connolly said if a plan thinks CSRs are going to be there and it’s not, they could face tremendous losses.

 

The federal government is currently spending $7 billion a year to reduce the co-pays and deductibles of 8.4 million people who have silver plans – the only plan that is eligible for the funds.

 

It’s believed that cost-sharing reductions would cost $10 billion in 2018.

 

Meg Murray, Association for Community Affiliated Plans CEO, said plan solvency is going to be threatened, meaning Issuers will get out of the marketplaces at rapid speed.

 

Anthem, which offered marketplace plans in 14 states, wanted to know what its earnings would be if there were no CSRs. The insurer made Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio regulators aware that it was either leaving or scaling its presence back in their state. If there is no CSR, additional exits are likely.  It’s hopeful that the Trump administration of lawmakers give some indication of what they planned to really do.

 

CEO Joseph Swedish said time is a factor and, the company’s most important decisions will need to be made in a short timeframe.

 

A plan that files based on no CSRs means premiums could skyrocket 20% from the year before.

 

According to Leavitt Partners Senior Director Sean Mullin, this would mean more people would have to go without insurance and pay the fine or pick the bronze coverage.  He said more people would get their procedures done but providers wouldn’t get paid and it was would to a rise in bad debt.

 

The shift in enrollment would hit the community health centers hard, as they cannot turn patients away even if they can’t pay. Many of these centers have reported they are not being compensated for their care costs because of the number of bronze plan enrollees.

 

And, if insurance companies believe they’ll get no CSRs and do, they’ll need to give out refunds to their consumers because they took in too much money, as stated in ACA guidelines.

 

Society of Actuaries health research actuary Rebecca Owen said, for states that come up with two-rate plans, actuaries must deal with the challenge to ensure rates don’t go too high or low.  She said filing to rates is atypical, and just including or eliminating the CSR in its rate isn’t all that simple.

 

There are two factors that are taken into consideration when the two rates are developed:

  • How consumers will respond to the prices offered
  • How other market plans are going to respond to the elimination or continuance of the CSRs.

 

Since all plans differ in how much CSRs they get, insurers can decide to offer a slight premium increase if the money is gone.

 

There are 38 states that use the HealthCare.gov website for residents to purchase their insurance. And, for them, there is only so long for plans to update rates after they’ve been submitted to CMS. A CMS spokeswoman said states must provide a rate by the Aug. 16 deadline. Federal exchange plans have until Sept. 27. Open enrollment season has been scaled back – Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

Congress Passes Several Budget-Related Bills Affecting Federal Employees and Retirees

Congress Passes Several Budget-Related Bills Affecting Federal Employees and Retirees

 

 

There may be some flexibility coming to federal employees and retirees in how the Thrift Savings Plans accounts work.  The TSP Modernization Act of 2017, as well as several other bills, was recently passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee, which could have an impact on federal employees’ careers and lives.

 

This act is going to change how federal employees and retirees can withdrawal money from TSP accounts. It allows feds to do multiple-age based withdrawals while working for the government and making them eligible only for limited withdrawals after they retire.

 

As the law is present, federal employees are permitted to make a single age-based withdrawal from their TSP while they are working, and they are then disqualified from making any partial withdrawals after their retirement. Retirees, however, who make no age-based withdrawals are permitted to make a single partial withdrawal after they retire, but are then permitted to all withdrawal options.

 

The bill would abolish the withdrawal election deadline, permitting retirees the ability to change the amount and how often they can make those withdrawals – more than once a year if they’d like.

 

The National Treasury Employees Union gave its endorsement to the bill – a letter was sent to committee members that urged they passed the bill.  Tony Reardon, the NTEU National president, said the rules on how federal employees handle their accounts have failed to keep pace with today’s workforce and the changes would ensure the TSP is a user-friendly option for both employees and retirees.

 

Another bill the committee passed is the Regulatory Predictability For Business Growth Act of 2017. The bill defines what long-standing interpretative rule means, which means an informative rule that’s been enacted for over a year. Longstanding interpretative rules must follow procedures in regards to proposed rulemaking, publication and comment.

 

Official Time

 

House bill, H.R. 1293, made its way to the Senate. The bill would demand that the Office of Personnel Management to report its official time to Congress on a yearly basis. H.R. 1293 was the only one to see a voice vote while other bills were blocked by committee.

 

Official time is the result of when federal employees conduct union business while on the clock and working.

 

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan was the only person to vote “no,” saying the official time advantages are for unionized federal employees.

 

DHS

 

The committee also dealt with bills that affected the Homeland Security Department, especially for its acquisitions. Acquisitions programs have faced tremendous difficulty with several programs suffering cost overruns.  A $1.5 billion agile services contract was dismissed because it was far beyond repair.

 

However, the DHS Acquisition Review Board Act of 2017 addresses the issue by developing a board that would overlook the critical acquisition programs and its practices. It would also seek to boost accountability and uniformity during the acquisition review process.

 

Chip Fulghum is currently serving as the chairperson, but the DHS Undersecretary for Management would be the official chairperson.

The board would meet if there’s ever a major acquisition program to be authorized. The board would determine if the proposed acquisition meets the requirements set forth and if projects need accountability and management.  They would also report Congress to get approvals on key bills.

 

The Reducing DHS Acquisition Cost Growth Act would require the DHS to let Congress know when a breach in a major program has taken place. Besides making Congress aware of this, DHS would need to turn in a remediation plan and review counter actions should a program fail to meet schedule, costs and performance measures.

The Border Enforcement Security Task Force Reauthorization Act of 2017 would give yearly reports to Congress on its effectiveness and share information. At its inception, an amendment was added that forced DHS to enact a bug-bounty tied to cyber security. However, Hassan removed it and said she would submit it as a standalone bill.

 

Six Additional Bills

 

  • The Procurement Fraud Prevention Act stipulates that the General Services Administration make sure that small companies get information about any federal procurement technical services.

 

  • The Strengthening the Department of Homeland Security Secure Mail Initiative Act permits federal employees to pick Signature Confirmation or Hold for Pickup services when getting secure mail via the Postal Service.

 

  • R. 1117 demands the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator to turn in a report on how it’ll offer help to applicants in a disaster, make notes of maintenance and transfer when staff transitions take place.

 

  • The FEMA Accountability, Modernization, and Transparency Act of 2017 helps FEMA to carry out the modernization of the agency’s grant system such as abolishing duplicate benefits, developing an online interface, etc.

 

  • The Federal Agency Mail Management Act enforces the GSA to offer help and guidance for mail processing.

 

  • The Federal Register Printing Savings Act of 2017 keeps the Government Publishing Office from giving federal offices and lawmakers printed Federal Register copies unless a request is made.

RSC Report Suggests A Conservative Budget Proposal Affecting Federal Retirement Benefits

RSC Report Suggests A Conservative Budget Proposal Affecting Federal Retirement Benefits

 

 

The Republican Study Committee published a new report that relates to the 2018 federal budget and the impact to Federal Retirement Benefits.  This study will is bound to interest future federal employee retires in many ways.

 

The RCS is an assembly within the House, and it’s offering a more conservative budget proposal than a similar report. The deepest cuts are being offered to stave off the increasing federal spending deficit, which currently stands around $20 trillion.


Potential Changes To Federal Retirement Benefits

 

As it stands from the report, there are a number of reforms being made to the federal employee retirement system. Rather than basing the retiree’s benefit amount on the three highest year earnings, it would be based on the five highest years.  The Special Retirement Supplement (SRS), which is a benefit to people who retiree before 62 but have worked a long time with the federal government, would be abolished.

 

From High-3 to High-5

 

A proposal, which has often been discussed but never implemented, is to change the retirement calculation of a federal employees’ retirement benefits from three to five highest years’ salary. Nobody knows how Congress will react to the legislation and what kind of wording it’ll have in its final format.  There are a number of proposals being floated around but nothing close to being enacted.

 

A look at Congress’ history with federal employee pay and benefits suggests that future retirees don’t need to fear just yet. Congress has chosen not to implement the change in the last 40 years – so why start now?

 

Should a proposal be passed, it’s unlikely that those currently working in the government would be affected, as they’re likely to be grandfathered. A change isn’t going to affect current employees… only future ones.

 

And, should it pass, it’s not likely to be as serious as some folks worry about. What kind of change would be seen for an individual employee if the proposal does change the federal retirement system?

 

Consider the following scenario:

A prospective retiree is making $100,000 for five years before his/her retirement and gets a yearly rise of 1.5% over the next five years.  The employee works for the federal government for 30 years before finally retiring. Under the current three-year formula, the retiree would get a $58,818 pension, and a FERS retiree would get $31,370. In the five-year formula, the CSRS pension is $57,949, and the FERS pension is $30,906.

 

It would not be wise to make a decision to retire based on the high-five proposal. Bear in mind that Congress is also covered by the federal retirement system, and it’s unlikely they would make changes to their benefits.

Simply put, the proposal is likely not to pass, and, it may not affect future retirees – a potential unfounded fear.

 

Federal Retirement Supplement

 

The Federal Employee Retirement System (or FERS) is applicable to nearly all federal employees in the government.  Like any other government benefits, the system is extremely multifaceted.

 

The Special Retirement Supplement, which is a part of FERS, is unique to several federal employees and, while it sounds simple, it’s anything but simple. As far as Congress views it, the matter is expensive and can be eliminated if the House and Senate can sufficiently support a new law.

 

The SRS offers extra benefits to retirees under the age of 62 but has worked a long time in the federal government. The latest proposal would get rid of this benefit. Not all federal employees benefit from the SRS, and it doesn’t apply to employees who fall under the Civil Service Retirement System.

 

A federal employee who falls under FERS must hit the Minimum Retirement Age (MRA). This age differs for people. People born in 1970 and after must be at least 57 years of age. People born before 1948, the age is 55.  For anybody else, the difference depends on their birthdate.

 

The Special Supplement is income that supplements income from the time one retires until they become Social Security eligible. There are some FERS employees that qualify for their MRA+ 30 retirement before they turn 62. This is when social security benefits start.  The FERS supplement bridges that gap from the retirement date to when their social security payments are to begin – this amount can amount to about 75% of the SS benefit.

 

Some Congress members would like to see this benefit abolished, affecting the future pension payments for several federal employees and get rid of the option that is currently available to some federal employees that fall under the FERS system.

 

What Should You Keep In Mind?

 

Many people are wondering if it’s time to retire before they are negatively affected by the potential changes Congress wants to enact. Unless you had already planned on retiring, it’s a good idea to wait. There are a plethora of unknowns to make a real informed decision, meaning more knowledge is needed.

 

No one knows what changes will occur, if any, to the federal retirement system. When changes are likely to go into law, there is usually time before it becomes in effect. And, don’t forget that grandfathering tends to come into play when changes are enacted.

EPA To Offer Employees Separation Incentives Ahead of 2018 Budget Cuts to Agency

EPA To Offer Employees Separation Incentives Ahead of 2018 Budget Cuts to Agency

 

 

Environmental Protection Agency employees are ready to take the separation incentives offered to them because they’ve become disheartened with the steady decrease in its resources.  Moreover, if a House appropriations bill cuts the EPA funding in 2018, it would reduce the agency’s budget even further by $528 million or 6.5%.

 

This proposal is much less than what Trump has proposed in his budget – $2.5 billion or 31%.

 

According to Labor and Environment groups, even a tame reduction could hurt the agency, especially in how they would be enacted. Since 2010, the agency has seen its budget slashed. And, should the House cuts go through, the agency will see a 27% drop in its budget for an eight-year period.

 

For certain employees, this means the enticement of early retirement offers and buyouts.

 

American Federation of Government Employees Council President Mike Mikulka said people are getting tired of the cuts. When asked if people would take it, Mikulka responded with “definitely.” The problem is that Congress and interest groups have demoralized federal employees and it’s growing tiresome.  He said people can only take so much before they leave.

 

The agency has put aside $12 million and will approve a little more than 1,200 early retirements and buyouts for 2017. Over half of approved separation incentives has been approved for headquarters employees with the remainder going to regional workers. The most regional slots will go to Region 6 in Dallas and Region 3 in Philadelphia.  The most slots for headquarters will be available to those in the Office of Research and Development.

 

The House put funding aside in the 2018 spending bill to help the EPA with its separation incentives.  For the next fiscal year, the president’s administration suggested a cut of 3,200 employees.

 

Agencies are permitted to offer $25,000 to employees who have worked with the government for at least three years via a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment – employees that would not be eligible for retirement benefits via the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority.

 

All early out and buyout programs must go through the Office of Personnel Management. The Office of Management and Budget has done this already for the EPA.

 

Although Mikulka blames the low morale for the high separation incentive rates, he said the agency might need to quickly decrease its force if the need is seen.  He said if the budget given to the agency doesn’t justify the staff numbers, then some people will need to be laid off or payroll cannot be met.

 

Mikulka said the process is likely to lead to less seasoned employees in the EPA.

 

The agency said it would use a formula of service computation dates minus leave to come up with a priority for decreasing its force; should it become necessary.

 

AFGE National President J. David Cox said lawmakers want to come across as more generous than Trump with their funding, but they are still trying to keep the agency from doing its job by cutting off its funding. He said that would lead to the end of the EPA if that happens. He said it’s like cutting off a part of your leg. Cox said they wouldn’t be happy until they have the whole thing.

9 Reforms The House GOP Fiscal 2018 Bill Is Looking To Address

9 Reforms The House GOP Fiscal 2018 Bill Is Looking To Address

 

 

House Republicans announced their plan for fiscal 2018, which includes a $5 billion cut for non-defense agencies and a reduction of $1.3 trillion in domestic spending to take place during the next 10 years.

 

Lawmakers were throwing out all kinds of individual and government agency reforms, which included familiar targets like duplicative programs, improper payments and pressuring bureaucracy.

 

Non-defense agencies, by 2027, would see an 18% cut from present spending levels, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting a 34% in top-line appropriation. Defense spending would rise by $929 billion during the same time period.

 

It’s the congressional appropriators, not the budget panel, that are responsible for setting the spending levels for individual agencies. The adjustments in spending caps will need help from Democrats to pass the Senate. The plan is important in that it takes care of previous reforms via reconciliation instructions and creates the majority’s party’s legislative agenda.

 

What are some of the reforms the GOP budget is looking at?

 

Program Elimination

 

The GOP budget has looked at 92 anti-poverty programs, and House Budget Committee Republicans have found several duplicates, which amount to $843 billion in savings. The programs involved the departments of Energy, Labor, Veterans Affairs, etc.

 

House Republicans Reduce Improper Payments

 

House Republicans are optimistic they can save $700 billion by eliminating improper payments. This is roughly half of the wrongful expenditures the committee believes will occur in the next decade.

 

The GOP is going to start a special commission that will find a way to definitely decrease payments. Lawmakers understand that it’s a difficult thing to do because of the complexity involved and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The commission should get advice from governmental experts like the Government Accountability Office as well as the private sector to address the problem.


VA Workforce and Bureaucracy

 

According to House Republicans, their proposed budget would deal with the mismanagement and accountability program within the Veterans Affairs Department because of the problems it faces with growing bureaucracy.  The measure would address the workforce issues within the VA by streamlining its hiring processes, reducing management and trimming middle management. It would also fund the president’s request for a 6% spending rise for 2018 and help to create a national dialogue to come up with a clearer path to medically treat the country’s veterans.

 

DHS Hiring

 

The president has made it a priority to increase the workforces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies. House Republicans want to comply with that request.

 

According to lawmakers, their proposed budget gives ICE and CBP the money to hire, train and send out agents to boost the nation’s security. Trump suggested the hiring of 15,500 new officers and agents with appropriators asking for a down payment for that request in the 2018 budget.

 

Border wall funding has been included in the budget using a number of Department of Homeland Security construction accounts – not just to build new fences and switching out fruitless barriers with better ones but to set up surveillance technology and operating bases on the southern border.

 

Dealing With USPS Budget Crisis

 

The USPS is a self-funded, independent federal agency, which has been deemed off-budget. However, the House’s plan changes that by putting it back on the budget – since 1989. The USPS inspector general informed lawmakers that administrators had put the Postal Service on and off budget during the 1970s and 1980s based on its surplus or deficit. When the postal service was on the budget, it was affected by in-fighting, deficit reductions, etc.

 

Cutting EPA

 

Should Congress go ahead with the House appropriators’ 2018 plan, the Environmental Protection Agency will experience a 27% cut in its budget.  This would get rid of the Office of Regulatory Policy and Management while also cut out the overlapping climate change research that both the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration has conducted.

 

Privatization Of Government-Controlled Mortgages

 

The budget accepts the privatization of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage companies.

 

Changing Energy Department’s Focus

 

Lawmakers feel that the Energy Department needs to focus on three things: environmental cleanup, maintain the U.S. nuclear supply and general research into energy security and discovery science. The budget would eliminate the funding for commercial development and research, cut spending for green energy programs and get rid of the loan guarantee program.

 

Reorganize Commerce

 

House Republicans have said the solution to the problems in the government consists of money, red tape and bureaucracy. The GOP’s budget cuts programs that are meant to help American businesses – those they consider corporate welfare. The budget will also do the following: move the NOAA to the Interior Department, set up the Patent and Trademark Office to become an independent agency, move the Census Bureau into the Bureau of Labor Statistics within the Labor Department and get rid of or combine 10 additional agencies.