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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

1. Extra Raise to Become Locality Pay
President Bush has issued an order on the extra 1 percent general schedule pay raise for 2003 contained in a budget measure enacted last month that as expected divides up the funds for the raise to be paid out as locality pay. The action means that GS employees will receive increases that will cause the total raise to range by locality from 4.87 percent in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose locality to 4.02 percent in the Kansas City locality. The largest locality, the catchall "rest of the U.S." locality for areas outside one of the designated metropolitan areas, would get 4.03 percent total. Those figures include the 3.1 percent across-the-board GS raise that was paid in January by default when Congress and the White House last year failed to agree on a figure for 2003. Still to be announced is when employees will start seeing the increases in their paychecks and when employees will get back pay due them; the boost is retroactive to the first full pay period of the calendar year, which for most employees started January 11. Also currently unclear is whether the back pay payments will be made as lump sums or spread out. There could be variation among agencies on those policies, depending on payroll systems.

2. Budget Deal Could Ease Benefit Threat
A deal reached among House leaders as that chamber voted to approve a budgetary outline for the upcoming fiscal year could relieve the threat to federal retirement and health insurance benefits that employee organizations saw in the version of the measure that emerged from the House Budget Committee. The original document would have required cuts from programs under the Government Reform Committee of $1.1 billion next year and $40 billion over ten years, cuts that organizations felt most likely would fall on the health insurance and retirement programs since those are the major spending accounts under that committee's supervision. However, Government Reform committee chairman Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., reached an agreement with the Budget panel that the savings also could be found through reforms in procurement and through agency reorganizations.

3. Good News, Bad News Scenario
The deal to spare benefit programs could come at the cost of a reduction in federal jobs, however, since many of the savings to be found in reorganizing and consolidating agencies comes through eliminating duplicative jobs-particularly in administrative functions such as personnel, procurement, payroll processing and the like. Davis has put agency reorganization and procurement reform among his top priorities, but it is unclear what shape those initiatives will take or even if they will pass Congress at all. If they fail to pass, or pass in a form that doesn't produce projected savings large enough to satisfy the budgetary goal, the pressure could be back on benefits.

For More Info, go to http://www.fedweek.com/nitp/default.asp


Washington, DC: April 7-9, 2003
Eatontown, NJ: May 5-7, 2003
San Diego, CA: July 21-23, 2003
Washington, DC August 12-14, 2003
Atlanta, GA: September 15-17, 2003
Gig Harbor, WA: September 30-October 2, 2003
Virginia Beach, VA: October 27-29, 2003
Washington, DC: November 18-20, 2003

FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO http://www.fedweek.com/nitp/default.asp.

All Federal employees should begin planning for retirement early in their career. These comprehensive three-day programs will provide the participant with valuable information about retirement planning and ways to ease the transition into retirement. If you are within ten years of your retirement eligibility date, these seminars will give you answers and recommendations to make informed decisions. The seminar speakers, all experts in their field, will challenge you to ask tough questions. These seminars are broken down into a number of components that discuss considerations necessary for planning for retirement, including:


    For more info on these retirement planning seminars, go to http://www.fedweek.com/nitp/default.asp. Also, pass the word along to your colleagues that there will also be multi-seminar attendee discounts for employees attending from the same agency office location.

    5. DoD Reform Proposal Coming Soon
    The Defense Department is expected to issue soon its proposal for a "national security personnel system" that effectively would break DoD away from many standard civil service procedures. While a detailed legislative proposal is still pending, officials have been sketching in more details of their intentions in their public statements, emphasizing the need for greater flexibility. They have said this will include: agility to convert certain military positions to civilian employee performance; faster hiring procedures, including on-the-spot hiring authority in certain situations; new authorities for rehiring federal annuitants; allowing supervisors to adjust job responsibilities without the need to recompete the position; restrictions on union rights to bargain certain issues at the national level; a greater emphasis on pay for performance; and making pay overall more competitive with private sector salaries.

    6. Certain Protections Would Remain
    Officials have said they are looking to the Department of Homeland Security's special personnel provisions as a model for the planned personnel reform, and also would like to build on several demonstration projects and other special authorities in effect in parts of DoD. They have said they will respect current obligations to bargain with unions, as well as preserve merit principles, veterans preference, equal opportunity rights and similar protections. However, the potential scope of the change for the government's largest employer of civilian workers virtually guarantees that the plan will be controversial. For example, the plan would largely remove the department from government-wide controls imposed by the Office of Personnel Management-controls that employee organizations and some outside experts say are needed to keep the civil service from becoming too fragmented.

    7. DoD Seeks to Extend Buyout Authority
    Meanwhile, the Defense Department in a separate legislative request has asked Congress to extend its authority to offer buyouts to employees for workforce reduction purposes, saying it "has used separation incentives to reduce significantly the number of involuntary separations during extensive and prolonged downsizing." DoD's current authority expires September 30, but it asked for an additional three years, which it said "coincides with the department's ongoing downsizing and restructuring efforts." DoD along with other federal agencies received authority under last year's law creating the Department of Homeland Security to use buyouts for workforce restructuring purposes, to open a vacancy to be filled by someone with more in-demand skills. However, DoD is one of the few agencies with ongoing authority to pay buyouts for downsizing, in which a position typically must be eliminated for each buyout paid.

    8. Overtime Cap Relief Sought
    In its legislative request, DoD also asked for changes that would ensure that employees exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act do not suffer a pay cut when they work overtime. Current law sets a cap of one and a half times the GS 10, step 1 rate, which effectively means that affected individuals at or above GS-12, step 6 receive less for working overtime than their basic pay rate. "The prospect of earning less than their basic rate of pay in overtime makes it difficult to attract people into supervisory positions. This inequity also means that some supervisors may earn less than their employees who work overtime," DoD told Congress. It also noted that special overtime pay provisions for law enforcement officers, firefighters and certain employees of the Interior, Agriculture and Transportation departments already are exempt from the cap. DoD is seeking a government-wide change.

    9. Other Proposals Also Raised
    In other requests, DoD is seeking: creation of an employee exchange program with the private industry for certain acquisition-related positions; increasing the annual amount that an agency can repay student loans as a recruiting and retention tool from $6,000 to $10,000, although leaving the lifetime cap at $40,000; revision of CSRS retirement law regarding the computation of annuities for those who work part-time later in their careers to eliminate a disincentive for employees nearing the end of their careers who would like to phase into retirement by working part-time schedules; and allowing all federal employees who are mobilized into active military duty to receive 22 additional days of military leave, effectively enabling them to receive the difference between their federal civilian pay and their military pay for the first month of their mobilization (existing law only entitles Reserve component members to the additional military leave when they are providing military aid to enforce the law or assisting civil authorities, circumstances that primarily apply only to members of the National Guard).

    Emphasizing that there is strength in numbers, a former president of the 400,000 member National Association of Retired Federal Employees says the group goes to bat for federal employee retirement benefits. Ravenous congressional budget-cutters always consider federal retirement fair game, so the need for constant vigilance and collective power is real, according to Chuck Jackson, currently a member of one of NARFE's most active chapters (western St. Louis). The association has one of the most sophisticated and influential legislative staffs on Capitol Hill. It helps both protect and improve the federal and postal workers' most important employment benefit. Any federal retiree or active worker can join.

    Chuck will be happy to send you detailed information on the organization and a FREE Retirement Legislative Report. This FREE Report will provide you with valuable insights on how NARFE is working hard for you and looking out for your best interests, whether you are a current federal employee, postal worker or retired.

    To get more detailed information about NARFE and your FREE Retirement Legislative Report, just email your request to chuckjackson@fedweek.com along with you name and address and he'll promptly mail you your FREE report and an information packet about the organization.

    11. Mike Causey's Thoughts on Contract Work
    The IRS is considering hiring contractors to help it collect on overdue taxes and letting the contractors keep a quarter of what they collect, an arrangement that would be illegal if the IRS proposed it for its own employees, according to our senior editor, Mike Causey. "But it's okay for outsiders to get it, right?" he writes. You'll find his column at http://www.fedweek.com/mcausey/default.asp.

    12. Key Panels Back Pay Parity
    The heads of the House Government Reform Committee and Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, have issued statements in favor of maintaining pay parity. Wrote House panel chairman Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va.: "Pay parity demonstrates that both military and civilian workers are essential to maintaining the success, strength and general welfare of our nation." Similarly, Senate panel chair Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote that "it is my strong view that civilian employees should also be rewarded for their work on the front lines during these difficult times and be granted a pay raise on par with military personnel."

    13. Performance Fund Also Backed
    Both committee chairmen also said, in messages to the congressional budget committees, that they support the administration's proposal to create a $500 million "human capital performance fund" to be used to reward high-performing employees. "The current system is outdated and does not give managers enough flexibility to recruit and retain a workforce with the necessary skills to accomplish agency missions," Davis wrote. Collins similarly wrote that "creation of this fund is an important step in creating a federal pay system that sufficiently rewards employees who do exceptional work. It is the Committee's hope that the enacting legislation will provide agencies with very clear and specific guidelines to follow when deciding who should benefit from this new fund."

    14. OPM's Emergency Guidance
    The Office of Personnel Management has urged agencies to keep their employees informed about contingency planning and other preparations for emergencies and reminded them that they are responsible for conducting threat assessments to their buildings, for conducting emergency drills and making other preparations for either evacuating employees or sheltering them in place. The memo follows OPM's publication of guidance to employees and managers regarding preparations for terrorist attacks or other emergencies, For a closer look at that guidance, go to http://www.fedweek.com/HotFreeNews/default.asp in the hot free info section of our website.

    15. COLA Count Up to 1.5 Percent
    Through five months of the count to the January 2004 federal retiree cost-of-living adjustment, retirees have accumulated 1.5 percent, following an increase in February of 0.8 percent in the inflation index used to set the COLA. The accumulated amount already is above the amount, 1.4 percent, that retirees received in January 2003. The counting period for that COLA covered a period of low inflation, including several months in which the inflation index dropped.

    16. Federal Legal Corner: Court Confirms Strict Enforcement of LEO Retirement
    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has once again confirmed that law enforcement officer retirement will be very difficult to obtain unless an agency has designated the position as LEO covered. Luke v. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Fed. Cir. No. 02-3277 (2/26/03). The rule stated in Watson v. Dept. of the Navy, 262 F.3d 1292 (Fed. Cir. 2001), was restated: the position-oriented approach of the Merit Systems Protection Board was upheld as the burden is on the employee to prove that the "basic reasons for the existence for the position" are the investigation, apprehension, or detention of persons suspected or convicted of federal offenses. 5 USC 8401(17)(A)(i)(l). For employees such as the appellant who is covered by FERS, as opposed to CSRS, there is also a rigorous duty requirement.

    The court found that the employee, a GS-083 police officer in the Investigations Section of the National Institutes of Health police force, had failed to meet the "sufficiently rigorous" requirement for FERS LEO coverage. Furthermore, as in Watson, police officers in the GS-083 series are presumed not to be entitled to LEO retirement credit. While normally the position description controls, employees were previously able to challenge denials on the basis of actual duties performed. However, 5 CFR 842.803(a), which requires a determination by the agency head as to whether physical standards and a maximum entry age are required for the job, "casts doubt" on whether an appellant may challenge the conclusion that a job is not "rigorous" on the basis of the actual duties performed.

    The factors used in making a determination as to LEO retirement coverage include: (1) whether the officer is merely guarding life and property or is more frequently pursuing and detaining criminals; (2) whether there is an early mandatory retirement age; (3) whether there is a youthful entry age; (4) whether the job is physically demanding so as to require a youthful workforce; and (5) whether the officer is exposed to hazard or danger. While appellant argued that he spent most of his time investigating federal crimes, albeit nonviolent property crimes, the court noted that the agency had rejected a proposal to impose an age limit and physical standards. The court also noted its own holdings that eligibility for LEO benefits must be strictly construed.

    What this decision means is that it is now imperative for any individual or group seeking LEO coverage to obtain the agency's blessings to properly structure the position(s) to meet the rigorous requirement under FERS. It is now almost impossible for an individual employee to successfully challenge an adverse agency LEO determination unless holding a position meeting the above factors.

    ** This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., a law firm dedicated to the representation of federal employees worldwide. For more information on Passman & Kaplan, P.C., go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com. **

    17. The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook Just Published

    Dear Federal Employee:
    We can't blame you if you've had enough by now. It's understandable. Years of congressional fed-bashing, massive job reductions in the 1990s, "reinvention" programs ginned up, then ignored. And though you've worked hard for the government through all these storms, you may just be ready to make a job change. You may find yourself facing a job transition in the not too distant future whether from being forced out by downsizing or reorganization, or from your decision to retire or simply separate from the federal government. But what you want to do, no matter what the reason you leave your present job, is to move on under your own terms.

    That's why I've just developed and published a brand new handbook aptly named The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook. It is specifically written for you-federal employees-who find themselves confronted by career uncertainty or career transition. Some common ways the transition may come include:

    • Agency job reductions
    • Transfer of your job to a different geographical area
    • You deciding that it's the right time to look elsewhere for work
    • Retirement
    • Career fatigue

    This all-inclusive handbook is not a simple government handout or dot com download, it is a well thought out and extremely useful resource that will give you solid answers to your questions and advice you can really use when you are faced with this life changing event for you and your family. I sincerely feel that you will find The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook all that I say it is-and more! Please continue reading for more information about this brand new guide and thank you for reading FEDweek!


    Don Mace, Publisher

    **Just Published!
    The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook Just Published-Only $9.95!

    This brand new, easy-to-follow handbook will serve as a guide for any federal employee faced with the uncertainty that always goes along with job/career transition. Whether it's the first time you've faced a major work change or not-you'll find good answers to your questions and advice that can help you make the most of the change, including pointing you to useful sources of more information. This all inclusive handbook covers:

    • The different types of transition and the positive and negative stages we all go through when we face a career transition
    • How things differ when you're leaving a job-whether voluntarily or involuntarily
    • Financial and security issues, such as retirement and other federal benefits you are entitled to
    • Family and personal issues you need to consider
    • What you can do to prepare yourself NOW for the changes ahead
    • Whether you should try to remain in the federal government or look outside for employment
    • How to locate and successfully compete for employment in both the public and private sectors
    • How to narrow down and target your job search
    • How to create a killer resume-for another federal position or a private sector one
    • Why and how self-employment just might fit in with your career change
    • Retirement eligibility and what you can expect
    • Special information and considerations for long service (or mature) job-seekers
    • How to overcome inertia and get rolling again
    • And much more!

    You must be prepared in this time of unprecedented uncertainty for federal employees. You could keep you head down and hope that the changes will not affect you; but you should remember that this obviously didn't work for the quarter million unlucky federal employees whose jobs vaporized during the 1990s. Or you can move on and investigate leaving federal service and, if you find that this seems right for you, you can take steps to help secure you and your family's future. Here's a partial look at specific areas addressed in our new The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook:

    TRANSITIONS-Stages of loss, transition, the ups and downs ahead, and how to weather it all

    SHOULD YOU STAY WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?-Reasons to stay, reasons to leave, family considerations

    WHAT TO DO-Advanced planning, your values, your interests, your personality, your skills, how to overcome shortcomings and build on your strengths

    RETIREMENT-Retirement eligibility, Social Security, Thrift Savings Plan, work after retirement

    LOOKING FOR A JOB-Finding another federal job, finding a job in the private sector, effective networking, finding info about careers, targeting your job search, the most efficient searches you can make and avoiding dry holes

    WORKING FOR YOURSELF-Self employment, the good and bad, how to get started.

    RESUMES AND APPLICATION FORMS-Electronic resumes and applications, touting your accomplishments, the private sector resume versus the federal resume

    THE OF-612-The new federal resume standard, what it's all about and how to use it to persuade an employer you're the right person for the job

    THE INTERVIEW-Federal and private sector differences, getting ready, your first impression, how to chit-chat properly, when to know the interview has begun in earnest, common interview questions and how to answer them, words to the wise, how to look 'em in the eye and get that job

    SALARY NEGOTIATIONS-Your bargaining chips, federal retiree issues in salary negotiations

    THE FEDERAL CAREER: HELP OR HINDRANCE IN SEEKING PRIVATE SECTOR WORK-Some of it depends on where you work, in the Washington, DC area or elsewhere, why it matters

    THE MATURE WORKER-Special considerations, including what to say and what not to say during an interview. How the law protects older Americans

    PLUS-We've also included plenty of sample resumes, a great list of action words to add power and emphasis to your resume, as well as work sheets to help guide you through the process of leaving your job and starting another. There's never been a better time to start the process.

    **The cost of The Federal Employees Career Transition Handbook is only $9.95 plus s&h and you can order it online by going to http://www.fedweek.com/Publications/default.asp and you'll find it under the Employee, Career, Pay and Benefits section. You can also call our toll-free order line at (888)333-9335 to place your order or by sending your order with payment of $13.95 ($9.95 plus $4.00 s&h) to: FEDweek, PO Box 5519, Glen Allen, VA 23058. There are also quantity discounts available for this publication. You can ask one of our representatives about them when you call or you can view them at http://www.fedweek.com/Publications/default.asp. **

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