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NARFE Legislative Hotline, February 5, 2016

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“This week, senators took another look at the data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management as they held a hearing on the nomination of Beth Cobert to be the new director of OPM. Also this week, NARFE joined with Federally Employed Women to support paid parental leave, and the House continued its attempts to undermine the Department of Labor’s efforts to improve protections for retirement savers.

“Next week, President Obama will submit to Congress his final budget (for fiscal year 2017), which is expected to include a federal pay raise proposal.”

Committee Holds Hearing for Nomination of Beth Cobert as OPM Director

On Thursday, February 4, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing to consider Beth F. Cobert to be director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Cobert has been serving as the acting director since Katherine Archuleta resigned as director in July, not long after OPM announced its data systems had been breached. Between OPM'S two security breaches, 22.1 million federal employees, federal retirees, contractors, job applicants and others had their personal data compromised. Cobert has been dealing with the aftermath of these breaches.

While there was high praise from senators for Cobert, she was questioned about OPM’s handling of the data breaches and what the agency will do to improve relations with Congress and strengthen cybersecurity.

The hearing came a day after House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, issued a subpoena for more documents relating to the breaches.

DOD Changes Family Leave Policy; NARFE Urges Congress to Pass FEPPLA

NARFE, in partnership with Federally Employed Women (FEW), issued a joint press release after Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter announced on January 28 that the Department of Defense (DOD) is increasing paid maternity leave to 12 weeks for women in all branches of the armed forces. In the press release, NARFE National President Richard G. Thissen and FEW National President Michelle Crockett applauded DOD’s initiative and urged Congress to follow the Pentagon’s lead and pass paid parental leave legislation for federal employees.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (FEPPLA), H.R. 532 in the House (introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY) and S. 2033 in the Senate (introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-HI, and Barbara Mikulski, D-MD), would provide six weeks of paid leave to federal employees for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. NARFE has long advocated for federal paid parental leave, saying it would help the government retain good employees and recruit top talent.

Thissen noted that the United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer its civil service employees any paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child. “Offering paid parental leave also is about competing with other employers,” he said. “Increasingly, we are seeing private-sector companies offering paid parental leave, and without its own policy in place, the federal government will not be able to attract and retain the top-level employees it needs,” he concluded.

NARFE supports FEPPLA and asks NARFE members to send this letter urging their lawmakers to cosponsor this legislation or thank them if they have already done so.

House Committees Approve Bills That Would Undermine Protections for Retirement Advice

This week, two bills, H.R. 4263 and H.R. 4264, were approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, clearing them for consideration by the full House of Representatives. The bills are misleadingly named the “Affordable Retirement Advice Protection Act” and the “Strengthening Access to Valuable Education and Retirement Support (SAVERS) Act,” respectively.

 While the bills’ supporters describe them as an alternative to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) conflict of interest rulemaking, both bills would weaken rather than strengthen already inadequate consumer protections afforded by current outdated regulations. NARFE opposes the bills, and signed a coalition letter expressing its opposition, here.

Both bills would prevent the DOL rule, which NARFE supports, from going into effect. The DOL rule would amend the definition of “fiduciary investment advice” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to ensure individuals saving for retirement are protected by a “best interest standard” when receiving investment advice. Under current regulations, the best interest standard does not apply to advice given on a one-time basis, advice regarding rollovers, or any advice on investing in an individual retirement account (IRA).

NARFE has been particularly concerned that federal employees and retirees invested in low-fee Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) funds – the federal government’s version of a 401(k) for federal civilian employees and military personnel – currently have inadequate legal recourse if they rely on bad or conflicted investment advice regarding their TSP holdings.

NARFE Members Encouraged to Ask the Presidential Candidates a Question

Here is a great opportunity for NARFE members to get their questions answered by the presidential candidates. The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), of which NARFE is a member, is sponsoring a "Seniors Decide Forum" for the major party candidates on February 17 at George Mason University in Arlington, VA. More information can be found here.

NARFE members are encouraged to record a short video (by smartphone, iPad, etc.) posing their question to the candidates. Send your video to lcao@ncpssm.org. Providing your video through this email will constitute permission for posting on the Seniors Decide website.

Governors Deliver State of the State Addresses, Set Legislative Agenda

Thirty-seven governors have delivered or released an annual State of the State Address since early January. A few more are in the offing. These speeches play a major role in setting the legislative agenda, including tax changes. There are several ways you can listen to your governor’s address including through MultiState Associates, which provides a link to either the transcript or website with streaming video; C-SPAN’s Video Library, which has at least 20 of these speeches ranging from 25 to 66 minutes; and the National Governors Association, which provides a gateway to 55 state and territorial governors where you can request regular updates. Alternatively, if you would like these resources emailed to you, you can contact NARFE’s State Advocacy analyst at cfarrell@narfe.org.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center

NARFE members can use the Legislative Action Center (LAC) as the hub to send letters to your members of Congress and track NARFE-related bills and votes. NARFE frequently updates the LAC, so check back often.

Return to February 5, 2016

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NARFE Legislative Hotline, January 21, 2016

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“It was a snowy week here in Washington, and looks like it will stay that way for the next few days. NARFE Headquarters will be closed Friday, January 22, and Monday, January 25, and will remain closed if the federal government closes beyond those days.”

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Postal Reform

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing, “Laying Out the Reality of the United States Postal Service,” on January 21 to discuss the current state of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and how it can be improved.

One of the witnesses called to testify before the Committee was Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who offered several cost-cutting proposals, including mandatory Medicare integration for all postal retirees. In her written testimony, Brennan stated, “Requiring full participation in Medicare by eligible annuitants is a universal practice among nearly all private-sector and state and local government employers who provide health benefits to retirees.”

Brennan went on to say that mandatory Medicare integration would save USPS money while having only minor effects on Medicare, asserting that retirees would actually see their health care costs reduced and benefits at least as generous as they currently have. She failed to address NARFE’s argument that postal retirees should not be forced to take health care coverage they do not want or need as a condition of keeping their current plan.

In a letter sent to committee members in advance of the hearing, NARFE stated its opposition to mandatory Medicare integration, which is included in the Improving Postal Operations, Services and Transparency (iPost) Act (S. 2051), introduced by Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE. NARFE also opposes S. 2051’s arbitrary reduction in Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) benefits for postal and federal employees. S. 2051 would cut compensation benefits by 25-35 percent for workers at retirement age and eliminate supplemental benefits for FECA beneficiaries with dependents.

Other concerns expressed in NARFE's letter included the congressional mandate that the USPS fully prefund all of its future retirees’ health care obligations within a 10-year time frame (fiscal years 2007-2016), which is driving the debate on Medicare integration. The prefunding requirement was set by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 and has caused the Postal Service to make cuts that reduce delivery standards and other infrastructure in order to balance the budget.

The letter also reaffirmed NARFE’s commitment to six-day delivery and to-the-door delivery, and stressed the importance of maintaining rural postal services. With 25 percent of NARFE’s membership coming from the U.S. Postal Service, postal reform continues to be a central point of the Association’s legislative agenda.

Updates to NARFE’s Legislative Action Center

Two letters on the Legislative Action Center, NARFE’s grass-roots advocacy hub, have been updated.

Included in the omnibus spending package President Obama signed into law in December was a provision extending identity theft protection services to 10 years for all individuals affected by the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) two data breaches. The provision also increases liability protection from $1 million to $5 million. While this is a notable increase in services, NARFE is advocating for lifetime protection for all victims of the OPM data breaches. This is why NARFE supports the Reducing the Effects of the Cyberattack on OPM Victims Emergency Response (RECOVER) Act of 2015 (S. 1746/H.R. 3029). Send the updated letter to your representative and senators, asking them to cosponsor the RECOVER Act and provide all OPM data breach victims with lifetime identity protection services.

NARFE has been working with the Department of Labor (DOL) to amend the definition of “fiduciary investment advice” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to ensure individuals saving for retirement are protected by a “best interest” standard when receiving investment advice. Currently, some financial advisers can provide investment advice that serves their own interest instead of the interest of their clients, including advice regarding rolling over investments in the Thrift Savings Plan. Several bills (H.R. 1090, H.R. 4293 and H.R. 4294) aimed at blocking the DOL from implementing the rule change were introduced in 2015. NARFE successfully defeated these threats, but it is likely that legislators on Capitol Hill will continue to push rule-blocking legislation. Send this letter, urging your representative to oppose any legislation that threatens to block or delay the DOL from implementing its rule change.

NARFE Members Encouraged to Ask the Presidential Candidates a Question

Here is a great opportunity for NARFE members to get their questions answered by the presidential candidates. The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), of which NARFE is a member, is sponsoring a "Seniors Decide Forum" for the major party candidates on February 17, at George Mason University in Arlington, VA. More information can be found here.

NARFE members are encouraged to record a short video (by smartphone, iPad, etc.) posing their question to the candidates. Send your video to lcao@ncpssm.org. Providing your video through this email will constitute permission for posting on the Seniors Decide website.

Consumer Prices Decreased in December; FECA COLA will be 0.38%

Relevant to the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) to civil service annuities for 2017, the December Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is 230.791, a one-month decrease of 0.40 percent. The December CPI-W figure is 1.47 percent lower than the average CPI-W for the third quarter of 2014, which was 234.242. Because there is no COLA in 2016, the 2014 third-quarter average will be the reference figure for determining the 2017 COLA.

Individuals receiving benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) due to work-related injury or illness, will receive a 0.38 percent COLA in March 2016. This number was determined after the December 2015 CPI-W was released (230.791) and compared to the December 2014 CPI-W (229.909). The FECA COLA is determined by different statutorily set methodology than the COLA for other federal retirees and is adjusted according to each calendar year’s percentage change in the CPI-W, instead of comparing the change from the highest previous third-quarter average.

The January CPI-W figure will be released Friday, February 19. For NARFE’s full COLA update, click here.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center

NARFE members can use the Legislative Action Center (LAC) as the hub to send letters to your members of Congress and track NARFE-related bills and votes. NARFE frequently updates the LAC, so check back often.

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NARFE Legislative Hotline, January 15, 2016

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“This week, the President appeared before a joint session of Congress for his final State of the Union address. For the eighth year, federal employees and retirees were barely mentioned in the President’s speech. However, as we’ve seen in the past five years, they certainly will continue to be a focus of Congress. In the coming weeks, we will see the President’s final budget, followed by the House and Senate budgets. NARFE members undoubtedly will be asked to take action. Stay informed and stay tuned for more!”

 House Committee Considers Several Federal Employee Bills

 The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee considered several bills in a markup session held on January 12.

 Introduced by Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, the Official Personnel File Enhancement Act, H.R. 4360, would require federal agencies to include any findings from a federal investigation in an employee’s personnel file. Specifically, this rule applies to employees that are accused of misconduct and leave federal employment or change jobs before an investigation is complete. The separated employee would have no recourse to appeal the findings. The legislation was voted out of committee favorably.

 Another bill included in the markup was the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, H.R. 4358, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-MI. H.R. 4358 would make it easier to suspend and fire Senior Executive Service (SES) employees for misconduct, while giving them less notice of suspension. H.R. 4358 would make these senior federal executives subject to up to a 14-day suspension, expand the criteria that could be used to justify the suspension or firing, and accelerate the removal and appeal process. The bill would reduce the amount of time federal agencies are required to notify senior executives from 30 days to 15 days, and once notice is given, SES members would be required to take mandatory paid leave, but not administrative leave. The members voted the bill out of committee, which may signal support for these provisions government-wide.

 The committee also considered legislation, H.R. 3023, that would extend the federal employee probationary period from one year to two across the board. Many on the Democratic side of the aisle expressed concern over the bill, as they argued the one-year probationary period is long enough to assess employees in most positions. Some called for a study of whether the change is necessary. Employees enjoy no due process rights while in probationary status. Nonetheless, the bill passed committee by a vote of 20-16.

 NARFE joined with the organizations comprising the Government Managers Coalition (GMC) in expressing concerns about the bill, while also supporting a provision in the bill that would allow the probationary period to start once formal training has been completed. In many complex federal jobs, training can take up to three years.

 Lastly, the committee began consideration of legislation that would limit administrative leave to 14 days, but the bill was pulled after a short debate. Both sides indicated bipartisan legislation on this issue may be possible, and therefore more discussion was necessary before moving forward with the current legislation.

 Update on WEP Reform Legislation

 Thank you to all the NARFE members who shared their views with the Legislative Department on H.R. 711, legislation that would reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). As reported in last week’s Hotline, NARFE supports H.R. 711, and there is an action letter available, urging representatives to sign on as cosponsors.

 Introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-TX, H.R. 711 would not repeal the WEP, but would reduce the penalty. For individuals who turn(ed) age 62 prior to 2017, H.R. 711 would reduce their WEP penalty by a certain amount, not exceeding 50 percent. There would be no retroactive reimbursements under H.R. 711. For individuals who turn 62 after 2017, the bill would replace the current WEP formula with a fairer one. To pay for the bill, the Social Security Administration would be granted greater authority to enforce WEP reporting by state and local government employees.

 Many members expressed concern over NARFE’s support of this bill, wondering if full repeal is still a priority. NARFE favors full repeal of the WEP, but years of pushing repeal by NARFE and other groups have been unsuccessful. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brady, is chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over WEP. In addition, H.R. 711 has bipartisan support and is cost neutral, meaning it would not add to the deficit. These factors indicate that H.R. 711 has a good chance of making it out of committee and to the House floor. If there is an opportunity to provide NARFE members and hundreds of thousands of WEP-affected retirees with some relief, the Association feels it is a worthwhile endeavor.

 NARFE asks its members to send the letter urging House members to cosponsor H.R. 711, and we encourage NARFE members to continue sharing their opinions on the bill with the Legislative Department.

 Obama Delivers Final State of the Union Address

 On January 12, President Obama delivered his eighth, and final, State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Federal employee and retiree issues were not a focus of his speech, but he did highlight the importance of strengthening Social Security and Medicare. The President also reaffirmed his support for paid parental leave, generally, which federal employees currently do not receive.

 The State of the Union address signals to Congress the President’s agenda for the upcoming year. Next up is the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget proposal, which will be released Tuesday, February 9. While spending levels for the next two years were set after President Obama signed into law the two-year budget deal in November, the FY17 budget process will move forward as normal, with the Senate and House releasing their own budget proposals. These budgets will be largely symbolic and will include policy priorities.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center

NARFE members can use the Legislative Action Center (LAC) as the hub to send letters to your members of Congress and track NARFE-related bills and votes. NARFE frequently updates the LAC, so check back often.

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