Benefits changes finally in sight for federal employees

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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009

Long-sought changes to the pay and benefits structure for current and former federal employees await President Obama's signature.

The defense authorization bill passed by the Senate on Thursday night included alterations to benefits and practices first announced earlier this month. Perhaps the biggest change is that members of the Federal Employees Retirement System will be able to get credit for unused sick leave when they retire. The provision will be phased in over the next four years.

The defense authorization bill, which funds Pentagon operations but historically includes several other unrelated provisions, passed by a vote of 68 to 29.

"This is a major step forward to helping ensure that FERS-covered employees will soon be on par with their counterparts under the Civil Service Retirement System, who have long been able to credit their sick leave toward their annuity," National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement.

Members of the Civil Service Retirement System also will be able to start working part time toward the end of their career without jeopardizing their pension. Agencies, under certain conditions, will be able to hire back federal retirees, who will be able to receive a new salary while keeping their pension.

The bill also ends the National Security Personnel System and suspends the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System. Both are controversial pay-for-performance systems used by the Defense Department and intelligence agencies.

Members of the military also scored some pay and benefits victories: They will get a 3.4 percent pay raise in 2010, higher than Obama's proposed pay jump. And voting will get easier for them, thanks to a provision requiring states to provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days before an election. States must also provide ballots electronically.

"It is the least we can do for our troops to make sure their votes get counted when they are serving overseas," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chief sponsor of the military voting legislation. "This bill will remove the barriers that too often conspire to disenfranchise our military men and women."

In addition, and not related to the bill, the Office of Personnel Management announced last week that it will give federal employees facing higher premiums for long-term care insurance, and who choose to maintain their coverage, until March 1 instead of Jan. 1 before the increase takes effect.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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