Tag: opm

OPM

or the office of personnel management is an organization that manages the records of of federal employees including but not restricted to all the retirement applications and processes.

Mistakes People Make While Picking the Best Date to Retire

One of the most common realities of retirement is that you have the responsibility of picking the best date to retire. You may seek help in deciding when you will opt for FERS retirement. To help you out, we have mentioned the most common mistakes people make when choosing the best time to retire and how you can avoid those mistakes.

retirement

One thing to Know Before Picking the Best Date to Retire

Before you start thinking about picking the best date to retire, you should know exactly when your FERS pension would start. The answer to this question is the first day of the following month that comes after you retire.

Mistakes to Avoid When Picking the Best Date to Retire

Mistake Number 1- Not Knowing the Importance of Leave Ending Date

The most common mistake people make when they are picking the best date to retire is that they give up the annual leave that they have on books. In many cases, people get paid out for the leaves but sometimes the deserved money instead of leaves is not offered because people don’t realize that they need to retire by that leave ending date that year. The ending date will change every year so you must check OPM’s leave ending dates.

Mistake Number 2- Getting the Annual Leave Pay Taxed Heavily

When choosing the best date to retire, people often doesn’t realize that the money they get in exchange for the leaves is taxable as it considered as a part of your annual earnings. You may even get counted among the higher tax bracket because you saved more leaves and got a hefty compensation. A good way to deal with such a scenario is to pick a retirement date within the first few month of the year when the work earnings will be fewer and your leave payment will be taxed at a lower rate. You can also consult with a tax expert in this regard.

Mistake Number 3- Not Using the TSP Waiver Right

Many people plan to use the money from TSP when they retire but they are often not too clear about the age restrictions, which is a big mistake. You must be at least fifty nine and a half years old when you start taking money from an IRA or TSP. If you are younger than the said age, you will need to pay an early age withdrawal penalty as well as some normal income taxes. The whole deal could get very expensive.

There is an exception to this rule for TSP if you separate from or retire from a service in the year in which you turn fifty five or older, you can make withdrawals without any penalty. It’s known as a waiver.

Another related mistake people mistake is that they lose the waiver. You lose the waiver if you transfer the money available with TSP to an IRA. So, you should keep the money with TSP as long as possible and benefit from the waiver.

Mistake Number 4- Not Having Enough Savings for Essential Expenses Immediately Post Retirement

People expect OPM to start providing the FERS pension on the first day of the month after they retire and this is a mistake that you can avoid. You should know that the time needed by OPM to process your retirement application can vary a lot. So, you should pick the best date to retire only when you are sure that you have enough savings to take care of your regular expenses for a few weeks (about four to six weeks).

Conclusion:

So, before you start planning your retirement party, you should consider the leave balance, learn how to avoid getting the leave money taxed, decide when you will start using TSP and also ensure that you have a good amount of savings to keep you self -reliant until your retirement application is processed by the OPM.

When you take these precautions, you will pick the best date to retire like a pro and not lose even a bit of your hard earned money. One of the realities of retirement is that you need to make smart decisions and it’s possible to select the best date for FERS retirement or any other retirement if you read resources articles like this one.

Agencies Relying on only a few Hiring Authorities for the Recruitment of Federal Employees

The federal agencies are not taking help of many hiring authorities available to it. They are hiring federal employees by making use of only a few authorities. The agencies are mostly using competitive examining authority. They are not even mapping the performance of any hiring authorities. All these factors were highlighted by GAO.

federal employeesThe report on Federal Employees Hiring Process

The report that states that federal agencies are depending on only a few hiring authorities to fill the positions by hiring federal employees was created by the Government Accountability Office. It pointed out that the agencies used only 20 out of 105 options available to them for hiring 90 percent of the workforce in 2014. The numbers of people hired at that time were 178,000.

The report also exposed the fact that the agencies used 85 different hiring codes to fill only 18,000 positions at that time. The major reason behind the highlighted trend is that the agencies are confused by too many options.

Less Data Usage

GAO also stated that the agencies and OPM are not using the data that needs to be used to measure which of the hiring authorities are working the best. This data also needs to be used to determine whether the codes are working as per the intentions of the makers or not.

What is Hiring Authority?

For people who have no idea what hiring authority is, it is an executive order, a law or a regulation that lets the agencies recruit a person into federal service. They also describe the eligibility of a person, the duration on which the position should stay open and what rules must be followed by agencies while confirming a new hire.

The Maximum Usage

Federal agencies used the competitive examining authority on most occasions. They post the vacancy to USAJobs.gov and then rank the applicants before using a category rating to find a new hire.

The Three Agencies

GAO spoke with three agencies on the matter. These are the Air Force Materiel Command, National Institutes of Health and the Energy Department.

The Surveys

Agencies need to collect and report the time-to-hire information as well as satisfaction surveys for all the positions they posted on the USAJobs website. OPM and the aforementioned 3 agencies admitted that they didn’t use this data to study how well all the hiring authorities are working.

The Lost Opportunities

GAO also mentioned that by not measuring and evaluating the required data, the agencies and OPM are missing the opportunities to enhance the hiring process for recruiting the federal employees.

Avoid Thrift Savings Plan Withdrawal Penalties

Federal Employees can be subject to a 10 percent Thrift Savings Plan withdrawal penalties if they wish to access their funds prior to 59 1/2 years old can be subject to a 10 percent penalty. To avoid TSP withdrawal penalties you can exercise various thrift savings plan withdrawal provisions.  The date of implementation of the removal of penalty is December 31, 2015 and it was decided post the passage of H.R. 2146.

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Feds Can Avoid Paying Thrift Savings Plan Withdrawal Penalties

There are eight key positions that can be used by feds to save themselves from paying a 10 percent penalty on their thrift savings plan withdrawals. The first one includes all the law enforcement officers. Second on the list includes firefighters and the third include border protection officers as well as customs officers. The fourth category includes the air traffic controllers, the fifth includes nuclear materials couriers while the sixth are U.S. Capitol Police. The seventh category includes all the members of supreme court police and finally the DSS Agents of the Department of State. No single person who is not in the aforementioned categories is eligible for the exemption. Even the special category employees who are not serving among the aforementioned positions do not benefit from the H.R. 2146.

The Surprise

When the TSP issued Forms 1099 for the year 2016 tax year, numerous retirees in the aforementioned eight positions got a surprise on the TSP Form 1099 as the 1999s display a distribution code of “1” in the seventh box which indicates early withdrawal with no exception.

This code signifies to the IRS that the withdrawal that was made is subject to 10 percent penalty and the correct distribution codes for the aforementioned eight positions is code “2” which is an early withdrawal – exception applies and indicates that 10 percent penalty is not applicable.

This issue has arisen because the TSP does not possess information in its files regarding whether the participants qualify for one of the eight positions. TSP is now directing the agencies to mark the participants who fall under the eight categories to a designator code “P” while transmitting the employee information to the thrift savings plan.

The Responsibility

As thrift savings plan didn’t ask the agencies to designate the code P sooner, it’s the responsibility of a person to ensure that the issue is fixed for the 2016 tax year. It can be done by following any of the two methods listed below.

The Agency Route

In the first option, a person will need to connect with his or her agency to correct the underlying records. The person must request your agency to transmit the “P” code on the thrift savings plan. When it’s done, the person needs to request a new form 1099 that is corrected from the TSP. This method might not be expedient as the tax deadline is April 18th, 2017 and a person might not complete the process via an agency that quickly.

Use Form 5329

The other option and the best one is to file a form 5329 along with the federal tax return. Let us explain this with an example to make things easier. Let’s assume that a person received a Form 1099 from the thrift savings plan for USD 12,000 with the distribution code “1” and the person is serving under one of the eight positions listed above. The person will need to complete Form 5329 by listing the USD 12,000 on line 1 of the form and enter reason code “01” and USD 12,000 on line 2 of the form 5329.

The Form 5329 has different codes that are not similar to the Form 1099 codes. Hence, one should not assume that distribution code “01” on the Form 5329 is same as code”1” on the Form 1099. Form 5239 will tell the IRS that a person’s thrift savings plan contribution was a qualified plan distribution post a separation in service in or after the year that a person turned 50 and was a qualified public safety officer.

As a PSO annuitant, a person’s federal tax return would already contain a statement that a person is a PSO and the letters PSO would already appear on the line 16b of Form 1040 if a person is paying the FEHB premiums via OPM because there is an exclusion of up to USD 3,000 for the premiums paid for FEHB.

In case a person is using TurboTax to prepare the tax return and has provided all the proper information to the software during the interview, TurboTax will prepare a Form 5329 for the person’s return automatically.

Conclusion:

It is quite clear that federal employees can save themselves from paying a 10 percent penalty on their thrift savings plan withdrawals by choosing option 2 mentioned in this article. If a person wants to save the penalty on all thrift savings plan withdrawal options, the Form 5329 will be handy as compared to approaching the TSP via one’s agency.

Federal Employee Benefits and Early Federal Retirement

Considering Early Federal Retirement?  You should know what happens to your benefits when you retire before you are eligible for your full benefit package?

People often wonder about the best date to retire so that they can avail maximum federal employee benefits. It’s always advised that a person retires only after he or she is eligible for it. It will help the person to be financially sound while he or she needs to face the realities of retirement. If a person is planning to retire early, the person should know about the consequences of retiring early in order to make a wiser, better and smarter decision.

Early Federal RetirementCounting the clock before retirement?

Why do Federal Employees Elect Early Federal Retirement and Sacrifice Some Federal Employee Benefits?

There are many reasons of why people choose to retire early and sacrifice some of the federal employee benefits that might have grown over time. The reasons may range from complex health issues to just being tired of working for the federal government. Some people also leave jobs to start something of their own and some just fear that they might lose their job if the agency they are working for is abolished in the new administration. No matter what the reason is, every federal employee must know about what happens to his or her federal employee benefits if they choose to retire earlier than the eligibility. Here’s what actually happens.

Insurance

If an individual chooses to retire earlier than the eligibility date, the person will get an automatic 30-day extension of their FEHB (health insurance). At the end of these extended days, a person has the option of converting to an individual policy from the current insurer. The person can also continue the current coverage for 18 months as per the temporary continuation of coverage.

The costs and coverage of the individual policy will vary. The costs for a Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC) will include a person’s share, the government’s share and a two percent administrative fee. In both scenarios, there is no need to undergo a physical. Also, there is no ban on the pre-existing conditions.

A person can easily convert the life insurance to an individual policy. But it must be noted that there will be no coverage for dismemberment or accidental death in an individual policy. The policy also cannot be term insurance and has to have premiums.

Pension

If a person has got five years of creditable federal service, the person can choose to leave the retirement funds on deposit with OPM or Office or Personnel Management and be entitled to FERS pension or CSRS at a later date. This option is highly recommended to ensure that a person maximizes the federal employee benefits or retirement benefits even if the person retires earlier than the eligibility date.

Leave

When a person leaves a federal job, the annual leave, compensation time balance and credit hour are paid to the person. It is credited in a short period of time from the date of leaving the job. The sick leave is useless until a person plans to come back to the federal service. If it happens, one can re-credit this one among federal employee benefits.

TSP

With a TSP, a person has several choices. When a person leaves their job, he or she can leave their retirement balance in the TSP, create an income stream with the balance or make a TSP Withdrawal. A person also has the option of making inter-fund transfers even after retirement. The TSP can also be transferred to a tax-deferred retirement plan of a subsequent employer or to an IRA. When choosing the transfer option, you should remember to do a direct transfer (from TSP to a new plan) to help avoid any sort of withholding.

People who are wondering what will happen if they choose to retire before reaching 55 years of age should know that whatever money you withdraw from your TSP before reaching 59 1/2 years of age would be subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty plus the corresponding income tax on that withdrawal. For people serving the nation as a special category employee (the ones who are in Firefighting, Air Traffic Control or Law Enforcement, etc.) have 50 as the age, not 55.  You may be able to avoid this early withdrawal penalty by exercising a 72(t) withdrawal strategy, but you should talk with your financial advisor before attempting this maneuver to ensure you understand the requirements, etc.

Conclusion:

It is recommended that federal employees, as with all employees, choose the best date to retire for their unique circumstances.  Talk with a financial professional to ensure your receive proper education and information regarding your federal employee benefits and to make sure you are prepared for the realities of retirement. In the event that you choose to retire early it is recommended that you work with an expert prior to retirement and especially when it comes to how you handle your TSP.  You will also want to consider the ever-increasing expenses associated with FEGLI and may want to change your life insurance to an individual policy prior to retirement.  Take a few precautionary steps and always talk with a professional to make sure you have the information you need before opting to for early federal retirement.

Federal Employees Spill the names of best Employee Engagement Agencies in the FEVS Survey

The results of the FEVS survey conducted on federal employees by the OPM are out. It has mentioned which large and small agencies are at the top with regard to employee engagement. It also revealed which small agencies are at the top. The results also name the large and small agencies that have improved the most in keeping the employees engaged.

federal employees

Topmost Large Agencies Named by Federal Employees

The topmost large agency in which got a score of 82 percent is the Federal Trade Commission. The next is NASA with 80 percent which is closely followed by Office of Management and Budget at 78 percent. Then comes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission that scored 77 percent and 74 percent respectively. The scores were offered as per the federal employees’ opinion.

Small Agencies Making it to the Top

As per the data released by OPM, 92 percent was the score at Marine Mammal Commission and it was 90 percent at the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has succeeded in scoring 90 percent while the Federal Relations Labor Authority managed to get 84 percent score. Overseas Private Investment Corporation has also made it to the top 5 with 83 percent score.

The Improvement

The survey data also reveals that 7 big agencies have managed to improve their employee engagement scores in the last year. The score of Securities and Exchange Commission was boosted by 5 percent. The scores of Federal Trade Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development Department, National Archives and Records Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by 4 percent each. The Energy Department saw the maximum boost of 14 percent.

The small agencies which managed to increase their employee satisfaction score include the African Development Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts that gained an increase of 18 percent.  The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board gained 14 percent while the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission gained 13 percent. The Office of Special Counsel and the International Boundary and Water Commission gained 12 percent each. The Postal Regulatory Commission ended up gaining 10 percent.

Conclusion

After seeing the aforementioned results based on the federal employees’ opinion prove that the small agencies are doing better improvement as compared to the larger ones as more small ones have managed to improve their percentage in double digits.

Federal Employees May not have to Wait Long for Security Clearance in the Future

A recent report says that federal employees may not have to wait long for security clearance in the future. The OPM is working hard to ensure that a new system is put in place that makes security clearance a shorter process. Since the agency was busy in laying the groundwork for this change, the time it took to do current security clearances rose in 2016 as compared to 2015. It’s a prime example of the fact that things get worse before they get better.

OPM Federal employees

Report Says Federal Employees May not have to Wait Long for Security Clearance in the Future

The report that says federal employees may not have to wait long for security clearance in the future was compiled by Performance.gov. It shows that the administration spent the whole year in putting many building blocks in place to implement efficient security clearance reforms as well as insider threat programs.

The Side Effect

A major side effect of the efforts made to ensure federal employees may not have to wait long for security clearance in the future was that the time is taken to do a security clearance was on a new high in the last quarter of 2016. It took 166 days to complete an initial investigation, 22 days for a periodic reinvestigation and 246 days to do an initial investigation that was at the top secret level. This data was also shared by Performance.gov.

The Comparison

In the year 2015, the federal employees waited 179 days for a top secret clearance and 95 days for the initial secret investigation.

The Progress

The administration spent the year in standing up the new agency for leading the overhaul of security clearance, the National Background Investigations Bureau. In September, the Security Executive Agent and Suitability Agent issued a memo that explained how the new IT system would make most of the decision on the top level and secret cases.

All the main stakeholders of the Performance Accountability Council (PAC) approved the Enterprise Information Technology strategy in October. It will be the overall plan for the NBIB’s new IT systems and will remain there for at least next five years, said the report.

The Training Program

To ensure federal employees may not have to wait long for security clearance in the future, the PAC also wrote new training programs for background check adjudicators so that they can detect faults easily in the clearance application of the subject.

Cheaper Law School is added to Federal Employee Benefits

There is some good news for feds who wish to pursue a law degree as cheaper law school is added to federal employee benefits now. The benefit would be applicable for all the federal workers and their spouses. The feds would be able to enjoy a 10 percent fee reduction. OPM says that this move would help agencies to close the skills gap in a better manner while the Law dean of the University of Maryland also thinks that this alliance is a good idea.

federal employees

How Cheaper Law School is added to Federal Employee Benefits?

The cheaper law school is added to federal employee benefits only after OPM forged a partnership with the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and requested the latter to cut the tuition fee by 10 percent for all the feds and their spouses. It is a unique arrangement between a law school and federal government as anything like this has never happened before. The 10 percent discount represents a new marketing approach of the university in which the specialty law degree programs are promoted among nonlawyers and practitioners.

Dean’s Opinion

The thoughts of the Law Dean of the University on the development where cheaper law school is added to federal employee benefits were also shared. Donald Tobin who serves as the Law Dean at Maryland says that OPM is telling their employees that this is a worthwhile and valid program. It helps the university to talk about the program with feds and gives access to the educated and thoughtful workforce. He says that’s it’s exciting on both sides.

The Discount and the Profits

As cheaper law school is added to federal employee benefits, the feds would get $2500 discount from the $25,000 price of Master of Science in Law or LLM. The school is hoping that the overall increase in the number of students would offset the forgone tuition and hence the profits won’t be affected.

OPM’s Opinion

OPM’s opinion on the development where cheaper law school is added to federal employee benefits was also mapped. Beth Cobert who is serving as the acting OPM Director has stated that this new benefit would let the federal employee obtain the education they need to meet the workplace challenges. It would also assist the federal government agencies to close the skills gap which will enable the federal workforce to fulfill its key mission to serve the people of America effectively and efficiently on every single day.

OPM Looking to Update Retirement and Benefits IT Systems

OPM is trying to control the ever increasing retirement benefits claims processing backlog by seeking a vendor who can update the Retirement and Benefits IT Systems in such a manner which ensures that the ever increasing backlog is minimized. The agency is planning to host an industry day this Wednesday in order to engage the IT vendors who are interested in providing this service to the agency. Now, OPM is using about 80 systems and almost all of them are outdated which clearly states that there is a need for the industry day.

federal employees, opm

The Industry Day regarding Retirement and Benefits IT Systems organized by OPM

OPM is planning to host an industry day this Wednesday to engage IT vendors who are interested in not only updating the Retirement and Benefits IT Systems but also maintaining it. The vendor would also be expected to enhance and modernize these systems so that the backlog of retirement benefits claims can be reduced. The backlog stands at 17,000 pending claims at the end of October 2016.

Outdated Systems

It is pertinent to mention here that most if the systems in the retirement services IT program management office of OPM that is headed by CIO Dave DeVries are outdated. There are over 80 systems there. The systems are a high or medium risk from the perspective of technology. Apart from being a technical risk, they are huge maintenance. The task of modifying them as per the legislative mandates and dynamic business needs is filled with difficulties and risks.

Future Plans

OPM has called for using commercial off-the-shelf technologies and agile methodology in the procurement that is slated to begin on May 1, 2017. It will have one year performance period and four optional years,

The Statement

A spokesperson for OPM has recently admitted that Retirement and Benefits IT Systems is moving towards being a system that has more overall data in contrast to a system set up for a particular system  or silo. The data-driven and multi-year effort might not be very difficult from a technical perspective but it will need more attention to the logistics as OPM will set up exchanges as well as some standards for all the members who are participating in the upgrade process. The agency would also publish more RFIs that would explain the new approach similarly to other efforts being made across the government. Clearly, the agency wants to reduce the retirement benefits claims backlog and hopes are that it will succeed this time.

OPM is seeking Nominations for the Civil Service Awards Program

OPM has begun the process of seeking nominations for the civil service awards program. It has sent a memo to all the agencies. In the memo, the agencies are asked to file only the most eligible nominations so that the budgetary concerns do not become a constraint. It has also advised the agencies to be extra cautious while submitting nominations by checking the background and other qualification parameters before submitting the nominations.

OPM

OPM’s Memo on Nominations for the Civil Service Awards Program

OPM has just released memo regarding nominations for the civil service awards program. In the memo, the acting OPM Director Beth Cobert stated that the Presidential Rank Awards play a key role in building and sustaining a federal workforce that is first class. It is the most prestigious one among the civil service awards program of the federal government.  The memo was sent to all the human resources directors and the chief human capital officers. The last date for submitting the nominations is January 6, 2017.

The Excellent Opportunity

In the memo seeking nominations for the civil service awards program by OPM, it was mentioned that this is an excellent opportunity to find the individuals who have made long-lasting and significant contributions to the effectiveness of the agency on a sustained basis. The agency HR people were encouraged to draw on all the segments of the executive workforce to identify this select group.

The Challenging Fiscal Conditions

OPM has also reminded agencies that they need to be judicious with regard to the number of nominations for the civil service awards program they submit. They must remember the challenging fiscal conditions. It is pertinent to mention here that the awards program was canceled in 2013 due to the furloughs that were caused by sequestration and budget cuts. It resumed in 2014 and since then the numbers of deserving Senior Executive Service members getting the top honors has been increasing.

The Reminder

In the memo that asked for nominations for the civil service awards program, OPM also reminded the agencies of another vital responsibility. They should make sure that the names they are submitting have no records of tax delinquencies, disciplinary actions or any kind of misconduct. Just 1 percent of the SES members are eligible to get the rank of a Distinguished Executive and just 5 percent of all the corps is eligible for the rank of Meritorious Executive.

Senior Executive Service Hiring to be stopped by OPM

OPM has recently announced that a hiring freeze has been imposed on Senior Executive Service. It will only apply to agencies that have non-termed political appointees has their heads. This freeze happens every time there is a presidential change happening in the country. There will be some exceptions to the moratorium to ensure that crucial tasks are not affected during the transition process that usually takes some time.

OPM

The Freeze on Senior Executive Service Announced by OPM

OPM has stated that the hiring freeze on Senior Executive Service will apply only to those agencies that are headed by the non-termed political appointees. The freeze will come into effect from December 7, 2016, and will last until the Inauguration Day. OPM released a memo to share the information. The memo also stated that the processing of SES Qualifications Review Board cases will be suspended by the agency when the respective agency heads make the announcement of their departures.

The Deadline

President Barack Obama has set the deadline of December 7. 2016. By this date, all the non-termed presidential appointees must offer their respective resignation letters. It is pertinent to mention here that SES serves as a kind of bridge between the civil service and political appointees. The board which composes of three SES members reviews all the senior executive hires in order to ensure that they are qualified.

The Implementation of the Moratorium

Sam Schumach, who serves as the Press Secretary for OPM has stated that the moratorium would only apply to the SES positions that have not been approved by the board. He added that OPM will go on to process the cases that are submitted before the moratorium actually takes place.

Schumach also pointed out that a moratorium like this always happens when a presidential transition is in progress. It helps the president-elect to get maximum flexibility in assembling the new leaders of the incoming administration. It also lets the incoming agency heads to get a chance to exercise his or her privilege to approve executive resource decisions that are likely to impact the performance of the agency during his or her tenure.

The Exemptions

OPM made it clear that there might be some exemptions to the decision to stop Senior Executive Service hiring. The exemptions would be in cases where the continuity of agency operations is vital during the transition process, says Schumach. For instance, where the moratorium may hinder the agency critical missions, homeland security or national security matters.

Federal Employees of DC area to get an off on Inauguration Day

OPM has just announced that the federal employees who are working in the DC area would get a leave on Inauguration day. The agency has also released the holiday list for the next 3 years. It believes that federal employees would also take a leave after the New Year and before the Veterans Day as they fall on a weekend this year.

Which Federal Employees are entitled to Inauguration Day Leaves?

OPM has recently released the federal holiday schedule for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. In the 2017 federal holiday schedule it was mentioned that the federal employees who work in the metro area of Washington, D.C. would be given a day off on the Inauguration Day. It must be noted that the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump would take place on January 20, 2017, which is a Friday. It is clear that the National Guard and the reserves will offer their support & services in the inauguration ceremony.

Clear Mentions

The Office of Personnel Management has made everything clear on its website. It mentioned that an employee who works in the Prince George’s or Montgomery Counties in Maryland, District of Columbia or the Fairfax or Arlington in Virginia and is regularly scheduled to perform any non-overtime work on the occasion of Inauguration Day would be entitled to a holiday.  The employees in these regions who are not regularly scheduled to work on Inauguration Day won’t be eligible for any in-lieu-of holiday.

The Expected Holidays

OPM has also highlighted the fact that there would be some expected holidays in 2017. As January 1 is on a Sunday in 2017, the workers would most likely take an off on January 2. Similarly, the Veterans Day falls on a Saturday in 2017 which means that the employees would most likely get an off on November 10 of the same year.

The Past Record

For the people who are interesting in knowing the past holiday concessions, it is noted that the Inauguration Day in 2009 fell on the day after the holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday so the feds working in the Washington DC and nearby areas got to enjoy a four day weekend. In the year 2013 also, the second inauguration of President Obama occurred on a Monday which allowed some federal employees to enjoy three days of holidays in a row.

Federal Employees to get Better Awards for Good Performance

The Obama administration has offered an early holiday gift to almost all the federal employees. It has increased the amount the agencies can pay to a fed as an award for achieving something extraordinary. It was added that the agencies should use this change wisely. The details on personal performance awards that were given in 2014 were mentioned and the performance of feds in September this year was also highlighted via a memo by OPM and OMB.

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OPM is Increasing the Amount of Money Federal Employees can get as Awards

The Obama administration has increased the amount of money the agencies can offer federal employees for individual performance or any special accomplishments. This announcement was done by a memo by OPM and OMB released a few days back. In the memo it was clearly mentioned that the agencies can pay employees below the senior level about 1.5 percent of their salaries. It was 1 percent before the memo was released and it was set in the year 2011.

Joint Memo

The memo was released by Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management. It stated that the award programs are great tools that help agencies to reward the performance excellence of employees and strengthen a high-performing culture that boosts the organizational effectiveness. It also mentioned that it is the duty of the agencies to exercise the authority to offer recognition in a responsible manner.

Cash Awards

OPM said that about 45 percent of employees who were below the senior level got an individual cash award averaging about $1000 in 2014. Around 3 percent got group-based performance awards that averaged ton $500 and 21 percent got cash awards of about $700 for individual special accomplishments.

In 2014, the total cash value of awards was over $1.2 billion which amounted to 0.8 percent of salary for those positions.

Other Vital Facts

It is pertinent to add here that OMB and OPM have increased the cap for awards to all the career employees and career Senior Executive Service members to 7.5 percent of salary from 5 percent. A ban on awards to political appointees is still in effect too.

Performance of Employees

An OPM report for September this year mentioned that about 48.8 percent of career executives were outstanding performers in 2015 while 41.4 were rated as exceeds fully successful. Around 9.4 were rated as fully successful while 0.3 percent was unacceptable or minimally successful. The average awards for those federal employees who were at the top three levels were around $8,400, $9,000 and $12,000.

OPM shares Federal Employees Benefits Survey Results

OPM asked the federal employees to share their views on the benefits they are receiving via a survey that was conducted in late 2015 and early 2016. The agency has recently shared the results of this survey. It tried to explain how the federal workers understood, rated and prioritized the benefits that were available to them.
OPM has shared the results of the federal employees’ benefits survey conducted a few months back. There have been improvements in many responses.

What did OPM found about Federal Employee Benefits?

The OPM survey revealed that the prevalence of benefit programs was steady from 2013 to 2016 FEBS administrations. The most prevalent options were the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

Increased Enrollments

The survey also found out that the enrollment in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) has increased considerably from the year 2013 to 2016. The enrollment in vision insurance has risen by 11 percentage points while the enrollment in dental insurance rose by 12 percentage points. Overall, the enrollment in all the programs has risen during the last 3 years and no program saw a decrease.

The Ratings

The overall importance ratings of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and Retirement Annuity were the highest. These results were in line with the enrollment results of the survey.

Tobacco Use and Awareness

The rates of reported tobacco use have not changed much since the year 2013. In the year 2016, about 10.6 percent of respondents admitted that they used tobacco in the last 30 days. This percentage was about 11.6 percent in the year 2013.

The awareness of the FEHBP Tobacco Cessation Benefit has also increased among the survey respondents. The percentage of respondents who stated that they were aware of this benefit has increased from 10.4 percent in 2013 to 16.3 percent in the year 2016.

The Design of the Survey

This year, the design of the OPM survey was developed and enhanced further to improve the overall accuracy of all the responses. To achieve that, some rating items were redesigned and some sections like the health and wellness were streamlined further. The survey also included learning about how the federal employees educate themselves regarding the federal employee benefits available to them. Some items were also added to the survey design to address the impact of benefit availability on the HR functions such as recruitment and retention of the federal workers.

OPM Says More Federal Employees Teleworked in 2015

OPM recently highlighted that the number of federal employees who telework has increased in 2015 when compared on a year on year basis. It was also highlighted that agencies need to assess the telework positions regularly so that participation can be enhanced. It was also mentioned that the percentage of situational telework increased as compared to routine telework.

federal employees, opm

The Percentage of Federal Employees who Teleworked Revealed by OPM

OPM has exposed the fact that about 44 percent of the federal workforce was eligible to make use of the telework option and just 46 of the eligible workers used this program. It is pertinent to mention here that the same percentages of the feds were eligible to opt for telework in 2014 too but at that time only 42 percent of the eligible federal employees really used the program. These points came to light during a recent report by OPM to the Congress.

The Advice

Steve Shih, who serves as the Deputy Associate Manager for Performance Management and Senior Executive Services stated that the agencies need to improve the participation rates regarding telework by accessing the eligibility of positions that are available for telework so that there can be better accounting and increased participation. He shared his views in the Chief Human Capital Officers meeting held a few days back.

OPM also said that many agencies have failed to even revisit their eligibility requirements since launching the program for telework. The report has mentioned that reassessing the eligibility of all the workers is vital because it usually allows more people to work from home especially in emergency situations. After all, the job needs change with time and so does the eligibility of telework.

Total Percentage has Improved

The report also mentioned that about 20 percent of the total federal workforce made use of the telework option. It was just 18 percent in 2014 and 14 percent in 2012.

Telework during Emergencies

The report divulged that 46 percent of the eligible employees opted for telework option just because there was an emergency like weather conditions. The situational telework has increased between 2012 and 2013 and the routine telework has decreased.

Telework on a Weekly Basis

About 34 percent of the eligible employees made use of the routine telework for just one or two days during two weeks in 2015 while 31 percent opted for it for three or more days during the same time frame. About 18 percent of the federal employees who were eligible used it about once a month, says the OPM report.

What Happened to the OPM’s Efforts to Hire Hispanic Federal Employees?

A recent report has revealed that OPM’s efforts of hiring Hispanic federal employees might not have led to amazing results but the efforts have not backfired either. There have been improvements in many areas like recruitment and retention. The report also highlighted the states in which the numbers of these employees were most and the designations in which these people were employed.

OPM Federal employees

OPM Efforts to Hire Hispanic Federal Employees

It is a fact that Hispanic people have been among the most under-represented demographic group when compared with the overall American workforce. In compliance with the People and Culture pillar of the President’s Management Agenda which stresses on helping agencies to address all the barriers that inhibit hiring and recruiting new talent, OPM in 2015 decided to focus on retention and hiring of Hispanic federal employees.

The Results

The efforts made by OPM are successful to some extent because the percentage of Hispanic federal employees has increased from 8.4 percent in FY 2014 to 8.5 percent in FY 2015. There has been a decline in hiring Hispanics for Senior Executive Service as it was 5.5 percent in 2014 and came down to 4.1 percent in FY 2015. The total percentage of Hispanics working in the Senior Executive Service has been 4.4 in 2014 and 2015 as well.

It was also mentioned that the percentage of Hispanic federal employees resigning from the service has decreased to 8.2 percent in 2015 from 8.5 percent in 2014.

Preferred Fields

Some of the fields in which Hispanic federal employees were hired were medical officers, nurses, social work, auditing and contracting. The top administrative positions held by them are Information Technology Management, Customs & Border Patrol Agent, Social Insurance Administration Series, Miscellaneous Administration & Program Series & General Inspection, Investigation, Enforcement, & Compliance Series.

States Hiring Hispanic Federal Employees

New Mexico topped the list of the US states hiring numerous Hispanic federal employees, according to the report. Other states that hired them the most were Arizona, Texas, Florida, California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Nevada.

On the whole, it can be seen that though the results of OPM’s effort to hire Hispanic federal employees are visible, there still remains a need for boosting the efforts in this regard as the percentages of the Hispanic employees in the federal workforce could be much higher.

OPM’s Pending Retirement Benefits Claims Grow Again

The Office of Personnel Management seems to be constantly losing and winning the crucial battle of processing the retirement benefits claims of people. Sometimes it seems that the agency is processing more claims than it receives which boosts the confidence in the fact that it will get rid of the backlog soon. And then, the backlog rises suddenly and it seems that OPM won’t be able to get rid of the backlog in the near future.

It just happened in the last two months, OPM managed to process more retirement benefits claims in September but its progress was not so consistent in the month of October. Let’s have a look at the details of the previous two months’ progress and decline.
retirement benefits

More Retirement Benefits Claims in October

It is a fact that OPM received 400 more retirement benefits claims in the month of October when compared to September 2016. It also lagged behind in processing the number of existing claims. These two factors combined to nearly eliminate the success attained by the agency in processing the unprocessed claims in September.

Numbers Speak

Looking at the numbers, one can see that the agency received more than 7,300 claims in October which are considerably more than the 6,946 claims it received in September. It processed 8,134 claims in the month of September which brought the unprocessed claims inventory to a three-month low. Unfortunately, the agency processed only 5,795 claims in October which are the lowest till date in over a year. As a result, the number of unprocessed claims now is 16,667 which are 1500 more than the number of unprocessed claims in September. The number of the unprocessed claims is also the highest since the month of March this year.

Lowest Numbers

The percentage of retirement benefits claims processed in 60 days or less was lowest in October, it was just 58 percent. This percentage was 82 percent in the month of March and has declined steadily since then. It was 77 percent in September and got down to 58 percent in October which is the steepest drop it has ever seen. The average number of days it takes OPM to process a claim in 60 days or less is 49 and the average number of days it takes the agency to process a claim in more than 60 days is 91 days.

OPM’s Guidelines for Federal Employees on Election Day

OPM has issued guidelines for federal employees voting privileges. It states that most employees should be able to vote after their duty hours are over. It also mentions special provisions for employees who are unable to vote after their duty hours are over. Regulations regarding early voting were also clearly defined by the major agency.

OPM

OPM on Federal Employees Voting Provisions

OPM released a memo in which the guidance for agencies and the HR officers regarding the federal employees voting and time off were mentioned. It stated that all the agencies have discretionary power with regard to allowing its employees to excuse on the Election Day. The agency also mentioned that as most of the polling places would be open for extended periods of time, there will be no need excused absence. If the employees need some extra time, they will need to ensure that the work doesn’t suffer.

Location Hours Matter

If the polls are not open at least 3 hours before an employee regular work hours or after the employee’ work hours then the agencies can grant a pre-defined amount of excused absence. The employee in such cases can be allowed to leave the office 3 hours early or come at the office three hours later than usual. The agency should decide which one after analyzing both options and choosing the one that consumes the least amount of time spent in voting.

If an employee has a scheduled off on the day of the election, he or she is not allowed to change the regular off day with another day to avail leave of absence on the polling day.

Commuting Issue

Only 1-day’ leave can be granted to employees who live far away from the voting place and that too is allowed for the employees who are not allowed to vote by absentee ballot. If more than one day leave is required by the employee then he or she may have to take an annual leave or opt for leave without pay for any number of days beyond the one day limit.

Early Voting Regulation

If an employee chooses to vote earlier, the agencies can allow it only if the employee would need to be busy on the voting day due to the work of the agency or if the early voting hours are similar to or exceed voting hours mentioned for the day of election because in such cases the information given under the Granting Excused Absence for Voting would be applicable.

It is heartening to see that OPM is leaving no stone unturned to come clear on federal employees’ voting absence and leave provisions.

OPM Bats for Better Work-Life Balance of Federal Employees

OPM is helping federal employees to have a better work-life balance. It has taken several initiatives in this regard. The first step is to offer various programs that ensure a great work life balance and the second is to ensure that agencies know how to use these programs. In a different development, the agency wants to gather data related to telework so that its feasibility and benefits can be rightly analyzed.

OPM Federal employees

OPM’s Initiatives to attain more work-life balance for Federal Employees

OPM has kicked off an initiative regarding work-life balance of federal employees. It has also decided to map the benefits of telework they are availing. Interestingly, the initiatives were given a green light in October which is the National Work and Family Month.

What Triggered the Initiatives?

The agency has analyzed the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results and it found that the work-life balance is a key for the federal employees’ engagement. Employees who have a better work-life balance have better productivity, satisfaction, and engagement levels. After the analysis, OPM committed itself to help agencies to strategically develop as well as improve work-life programs.

The agencies would be encouraged to enhance the quality of work-life programs via training, guidance, consultation and other tools.

New Efforts

As a part of the OPM initiative, the agencies would get guidance with regard to workplace flexibilities for employees and managers, using telework to reduce employee difficulties, the coverage available as per the FEHB for preventive services, etc. A series of webinars would also be organized to let the agencies boost their knowledge on issues like telework.

Another Memo

In a different memo, OPM has asked the telework managing officers and coordinators of the agencies who were earlier designated as the points of contact regarding the annual telework data to submit some real data by using a web-based form. Every managing officer and coordinator would get an individual password to fill the form and they will need to submit the information regarding cost savings of telework, best practices, participation rates, etc.

OPM has made it clear that the agency will use this data to make the future policy decisions with regard to the telework opportunities given to the federal employees. It was also made clear that the data will not solely be dependent on the feedback from the agencies, it will also include some other stakeholders’ opinions.

Agencies Making Loads of Mistakes While Preparing Retirement Applications

A committee has highlighted that many of the government agencies are making a lot of mistakes while preparing retirement applications. It suggests that OPM should guide the agencies in this regard and the agencies should also follow the suggestions mentioned by OPM to the letter. OPM promised to find new ways to solve this problem by working with GAO.

retirement planning

Agencies Making Many Mistakes While Preparing the Retirement Applications

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has highlighted that a few agencies are making a lot of mistakes when they are preparing the retirement applications and then sending them to the OPM for further processing.  The committee mentioned four agencies that were the worst as they had error rates that exceeded the government wide rate, 13 percent in September. The agencies are the Social Security Administration, the Interior Department, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Agriculture Department.

Major Errors

About 15 percent of the retirement applications prepared by the Social Security Administration has at least one error in September. The error rate was highest in April when it stood at 30 percent of a total of 27 cases. The Veterans Affairs Department made errors in preparing 20 percent of 357 cases in September. Interior Department made mistakes in 18 percent of the 51 cases and the error rate of the Agriculture Department was 23 percent while preparing applications for 92 cases in September.

The Letter

A letter was sent to the Government Accountability Office by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in which the GAO was requested to review the method undertaken by the agencies and OPM to process the employees’ retirement claims. In the letter, it was mentioned that though OPM is taking steps to ensure that the current processing system becomes more efficient, it should also ensure that the processing is more accurate and efficient.

The lawmakers also showed concern over whether the agencies are following OPM’s guidance with regard to processing the applications or not.

OPM’s Response

A spokesperson for OPM, Sam Schumach, stated that the agency appreciated the interest shown by the committee on the topic of preparing retirement applications. He further added that the agency would surely work with the Government Accountability Office so that the number of errors could be reduced and most of the agencies know about the ways to improve their performance in the future.

GAO Lists Benefits of Federal Employees Telework

Teleworking has become a common trend at the federal agencies and it’s highly beneficial too if the reports of Government Accountability Office are to be believed. But the GAO recently stated that there is not enough data on telework costs as there should be. The agencies are not collecting the relevant data which makes it difficult to know exactly how telework of federal employees is beneficial as a whole.

federal employees

The GAO Report on Federal Employees Telework

The report that lists the benefits of telework by federal employees was released on August 1, 2016. The report was created after auditing the telework programs at 6 agencies that are the General Services Administration, Transportation Department, Environmental Protection Agency, The Agriculture Department, Merit Systems Protection Board and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The audit was done during the timeframe of April 2015 to July 2016.

The Benefits

The benefits of telework listed by agencies include better recruitment, enhanced retention, improved work/life balance, fewer absences, and continuity of operations.

The Lack of Data

The GAO has also revealed that the agencies have little or no data with regard to how the telework programs are helping it to save money. The cost and benefits data is barely there. This is a serious concern after one considers the fact that in 2013, the number of federal workers who could choose telework was 1 million, as per OPM’s annual report of 2014.

Congress’ Interest

GAO has also pointed out that the agencies are increasingly using the option of telework these days so it’s important for them to examine the impact this tool has on the cost and performance bottom lines. Even though it is not a requirement at this time but it would be better if the agencies report the costs associated with telework because congress has an interest in the value of this flexibility provided to all the feds.

The Reduced Data

It is pertinent to add here that the agencies reported 66 examples of cost savings associated with telework in the year 2012 but after a year only just 29 such examples were reported. Even OPM didn’t ask for the cost savings information because the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 does not require OPM to ask any questions with regard to overall cost savings that were achieved due to the telework programs. After the GAO report, OPM officials have agreed to include cost savings achieved due to federal employees’ telework in the future data.