Senators Seek Domestic-Partner Benefits for Federal Workers

By Stephen Barr
Friday, September 29, 2006

Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) have introduced legislation that would permit unmarried federal employees to apply for health, dental and vision insurance, retirement and other benefits for their domestic partners.

The senators said that many companies and state and local governments offer domestic-partner benefits and that it is time for the federal government to do the same.

"Federal workers should be able to extend their benefits to loved ones," Smith said. He added, "I believe we need to rid the workplace of discrimination, not just in hiring decisions but also in the rights and privileges afforded employees." Lieberman said offering expanded benefits coverage "will help federal agencies compete for the most qualified personnel."

Spokesmen for the senators said the bill's introduction was intended to ensure that the issue will come up for consideration next year. Congress, however, has been reluctant to take action on domestic-partner benefits in the federal sector, in part because that would reopen debate on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Smith and Lieberman said more than 8,000 companies make benefits available to domestic partners. The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, released data this year showing that 253 of the Fortune 500 companies offer domestic-partner health-insurance benefits.

Health-insurance benefits are a top concern in single-sex households that include a federal employee, said Len Hirsch , president of Federal GLOBE, a group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender government employees.

Benefits for domestic partners are "very important in terms of effective workplace management, given the baby boom retirements that are about to occur," Hirsch said. "It is in the government's interest, in terms of being able to effectively recruit the best employees, to have this bill passed."

Asked about the legislation, the Office of Personnel Management said in a statement, "We haven't reviewed the legislation yet, so it is premature to comment."

Insurance Whiz Retires

Frank D. Titus , who has helped shape retirement and insurance programs for federal employees since 1984, leaves the OPM today after nearly 34 years of federal service.

He helped implement the Federal Employees Retirement System, the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program and flexible spending accounts for government workers, which provide tax savings. He also came up with the idea for an Internet portal, to be known as BeneFeds, to handle enrollment in the federal employee dental and vision programs being offered later this year.

Titus also devised the formula to calculate the government's share of health-care premium costs and implemented the mental health and substance abuse parity policies in the federal employee health insurance program.

He engineered a government-wide system to administer the temporary coverage of health benefits at the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center, eliminating duplicative agency-based systems. He helped create a letter-of-credit system for major health insurance companies, helping reduce federal budget costs.

Titus joined the Senior Executive Service in 1984 and held a number of senior management positions at the OPM. He retired as assistant director for insurance programs.

Also Retiring

Janet Burt , program analyst for the Agriculture Department's chief information officer, will retire today after more than 31 years of federal service. Her career began with the Secret Service; she has worked at the Agriculture Department for the past 25 years.

Mary R. Ratcliffe , supervisory building management specialist for the Defense Department's leased facilities division, will retire tomorrow after 32 years of federal service.

Talk Shows

Shelby Hallmark , director of the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on http://federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Reginald Wells , deputy commissioner of human resources and chief human capital officer at the Social Security Administration, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.


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