Legislation that would give time off to federal employees who travel during off-duty hours and would allow employees to make changes in their allotments to the Thrift Savings Plan throughout the year has been approved by the House civil service subcommittee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), the subcommittee chairman, appears to be the main legislation affecting civil service employees that has a chance of passage in this election year.

The Senate approved its version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), last month. The bills are different in some areas and will require a round of House-Senate negotiations before a compromise can be sent to President Bush.

Both bills seek to address concerns that the government could lose a substantial number of employees in the next few years, especially in national security jobs and other critical positions. To improve the government's competitiveness in hiring, the bills would permit agencies to provide more-generous bonuses for recruiting and retaining workers.

But numerous employees appear more interested in the prospect that they could receive compensatory time off for weekend travel and in the proposed rule change for the TSP.

Under the bills, federal employees who travel on their own time -- for example, spending Sunday on an airplane to attend a Monday morning business meeting -- would get a chance to reclaim those hours.

The House bill, however, includes a limit on the hours that a traveler could trade for time off. The cap essentially would limit travelers to the amount of overtime they would be eligible to collect if they were working in their office.

Travel time has been a sore point with some federal employees for years. Current rules make it difficult for employees to qualify for pay while traveling outside duty hours.

The House bill, voted out of the subcommittee late Tuesday, also differs from the Senate version by including a provision that would eliminate TSP "open seasons."

The open seasons -- April 15 through June 30 and Oct. 15 through Dec. 31 -- were set up to help employees sort through investment options and make decisions on how much to save in the 401(k)-type program.

But because open seasons are the only time employees can change the amount of their contributions, TSP officials have come to view them as restrictive rather than helpful, especially since the TSP has changed to a new computer system that allows for daily transactions.

Current rules do not allow matching contributions by agencies to begin until a person has been on the payroll for six to 12 months, depending on the date of hire.

That has prompted complaints from some new hires, especially those who must wait longer than others to receive matching contributions. The employees point out that the government pays its share of health insurance and other benefits starting on the first day they join an agency.

TSP officials said at a Senate hearing earlier this year that they supported an elimination of open seasons, in part because it would simplify the program's administration.

New Jobs at TSP

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the TSP, has announced that it is adding three executive positions -- for participant services, financial services and investment services.

The TSP, which has about 3.3 million participants and assets of more than $133 billion, operates with about 90 employees in Washington. Bush appointees to the board have pledged to improve customer service and efforts to educate government workers on the importance of saving for retirement.

According to the job announcements, the director of participant services will serve as the TSP's chief operating officer, the agency's number two position, and will be responsible for almost all aspects of customer service. The director of financial services will work as a chief financial officer, managing the agency's budget, and the director of investment services will oversee the investment policies of TSP funds.

The positions will pay $104,927 to $145,600, according to the announcements.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com