Key federal-employee policies have changed during Obama administration

Key federal-employee policies have changed during Obama administration

In Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, President Obama announced no new initiatives directly affecting federal employees. That’s not unusual for an annual speech that typically focuses on broad economic, national security and foreign policy themes.

But even without such a jump-start, changes commonly are made each year in important aspects of federal employment, including pay, retirement and other benefits, and workplace policies.

The accompanying table shows key developments during Obama’s time in office.

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
PAY Recommends 2 percent raise for 2010; Congress agrees. Recommends 1.4 percent raise for 2011 but after report of deficit commission, recommends freezing rates for 2011 and 2012; Congress agrees. Freeze in place. Freeze in place. Recommends 0.5 percent raise for 2013. Congress allows it, but then budget deal extends freeze to 2013. Freeze in place. Recommends 1 percent raise for 2014; Congress allows it to take effect.
RETIREMENT Long-proposed improvements enacted, including allowing all workers to credit unused sick leave toward retirement benefits, though phased in. Social Security payroll tax reduced by 2 percentage points for 2011, aiding large majority of federal workers covered by that system. Recommends raising worker retirement contributions by 1.2 percent of salary as counter to House GOP’s larger increase; no agreement reached. Retirement contributions raised for those hired in 2013 and later to 3.1 percent. Obama proposes “phased retirement” of part-time work and partial annuity payments; Congress agrees. Further increase of retirement contributions. Those hired in 2014 and later to pay 4.4 percent. Issues proposed rules to carry out phased retirement authority (policy still not in effect pending final rules).
OTHER BENEFITS Orders same-sex domestic partners be included for certain purposes, such as using sick leave to care for ill family members. Affordable Care Act enacted. Requires members of Congress and personal staff to leave Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, effective in 2014. Successfully opposes proposals to shift more of the cost of health insurance onto enrollees. Expands same-sex domestic partner benefit policies, including authority for a variant form of survivor annuity. Expands health insurance coverage and full retirement survivor benefits to same-sex spouses in response to Supreme Court decision. Proposes, and Congress accepts, adding self plus one option to FEHBP (not yet in effect).
MANAGEMENT Orders review of pay for performance system at Defense Department created by Bush administration, leading to law revoking the program. Long-proposed expansion of telework authority enacted. Issues guidance exempting more federal jobs from private-sector performance. Reverses Bush administration policy, allows limited bargaining by Transportation Security Administration screeners. Imposes new limits on conferences, travel and awards after probes reveal wasteful spending at several agencies. Orders more restrictions on travel, conference spending and awards. Budgetary sequestration triggers widespread hiring freezes, layoffs of temporary employees, and restrictions on expenses.
OTHER ISSUES Orders steps to speed up and simplify hiring process. Begins veterans hiring initiative and creates council to support labor-management cooperation and greater union role in agency decisions affecting employees. Overhauls development programs for students and recent graduates. Begins initiatives for hiring of disabled. Tightens policies on payment of within-grade increases, recruitment and retention incentives, and cash awards. Issues executive order on promoting diversity in the workforce. Imposes new standards for evaluating performance of senior executives. Some agencies impose unpaid furloughs following sequestration; practices vary widely. Later partial government shutdown causes more furloughs but employees receive back pay for that time.

Eric Yoder
Eric Yoder is a veteran Washington journalist who has written about government, business, law, sports and other topics. He has reported (and researched) for The Washington Post since 2000, concentrating on federal employee issues, the budget and other government policies. He also is the award-winning author of three books of short mysteries for children.

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