Civil Service Improvements Signed Into Law Persistence by NARFE Results In Major Victory
By Dan Adcock
Legislative Director
November 2009

On October 28, President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization bill, which includes numerous civil service improvements sought by NARFE for several years. “Enactment of this legislation to eliminate inequities, increase productivity and address the skills shortage in the civil service is a great victory for active and retired federal employees – and something that NARFE has worked for behind the scenes for a long time,” said NARFE President Margaret L. Baptiste. “We are pleased that the president has signed this important bill into law, and we are grateful to our friends in Congress who moved heaven and earth to include the civil service improvements in the final legislation.”

The new law will:

•    Allow federal agencies to re-employ federal retirees on a limited, part-time basis without offset of annuity;
•    Permit Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) workers initially to credit half, and in 2014 all, of their unused sick leave toward retirement;
•    Allow returning FERS employees who previously left federal service to repay a deposit to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Trust Fund, with interest, in order to be able to combine their past and new federal service for their future annuity;
•    Permit certain Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) workers to phase down to part-time status at the end of their careers without reducing their final annuity;
•    Provide for retirement equity for federal employees in Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Territories; and
•    End the Department of Defense’s pay-for-performance personnel system, the National Security Personnel System or NSPS, and restore employees to the federal General Schedule pay system.

Most of the civil service provisions were effective on the date the bill became law.
The House passed the final Defense bill by a vote of 281-146 on October 8, and the Senate passed it on a 68-29 vote on October 22.  
Baptiste commended Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-NY; Stephen F. Lynch, D-MA; and Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-CT; Susan M. Collins, R-ME; Daniel K. Akaka, D-HI; and Jim Webb, D-VA, who served as the Defense bill conferees, for helping to persuade their colleagues, particularly Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-MO, to include the civil service provisions. In addition, she thanked Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, D-MD; Chris Van Hollen, D-MD; Frank R. Wolf, R-VA; James P. Moran, D-VA; Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC; Gerry E. Connolly, D-VA; John P. Sarbanes, D-MD; Donna F. Edwards, D-MD; Elijah E. Cummings, D-MD; and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-MD, for the significant role they played in this victory on behalf of NARFE and the federal/postal community.
“During the past several years, NARFE has played a leading role, along with other federal and postal employee organizations, in overcoming many obstacles to achieve passage of these needed civil service improvements,” Baptiste said. “For example, absent NARFE’s persistence, legislation (S. 629) sponsored by Sens. Collins; Herb Kohl, D-WI; and George V. Voinovich, R-OH, to allow federal retirees to be re-employed by the government would not have been included in the final Defense bill. Many federal retirees continue to make critical contributions to our safety and well-being during this time of national need, when work force shortages have deprived some agencies of employees with critical and specialized skills,” Baptiste said.
 
Re-employed Annuitants

Under current law, the wages of re-employed annuitants are generally offset by the amount of their annuity. However, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and certain federal agencies have the authority to allow some returning retirees to avoid the offset when serving “in positions for which there is exceptional difficulty in recruiting and retaining a qualified employee” and “in jobs critical to the accomplishment of the agency’s mission.” Nonetheless, sometimes the existing waiver process cannot move fast enough to respond to unique demands placed on agencies desperate to find employees with particular knowledge and skills.
The new law will extend existing authority by allowing agency heads, on their own, to waive the restriction so that retirees can return to work on a limited, part-time basis without offset of annuity from salary. Given that the authority to re-hire retirees is discretionary, agencies are not required to re-employ annuitants.
An annuitant re-employed under the authority created by the law may work no more that 520 hours during his or her first six months of service, no more than 1,040 hours in any 12-month period and no more than a total of 3,120 hours. The limitations were included by Collins to allay concerns voiced by federal employee unions that re-employed annuitants would take away jobs that would otherwise go to current federal workers. Indeed, the intent of the legislation is for agencies to use re-employment authority to supplement, and not supplant, the current work force and to find annuitants with specific skills that are not presently available for hard-to-fill positions.

FERS Sick Leave

Baptiste was particularly pleased that a compromise was reached on the FERS sick leave legislation by phasing in the allowance. When Congress created FERS in 1986, the benefit of allowing workers to apply their unused sick leave toward retirement was traded off for other FERS benefits not available under CSRS. “However, with the benefit of 23 years of hindsight, we recognize that the inequity in the treatment of accrued sick leave between FERS and CSRS has hurt productivity and increased agency costs.  For that reason, we have strongly supported the concept that all federal civilian retirement programs credit unused sick leave toward retirement,” Baptiste said. The NARFE president lauded Moran for introducing his own FERS sick leave equity bill (H.R. 958) and for being a long-time champion of the issue.

For Additional Details

Additional details on the new law may be found on the NARFE Web site, www.narfe.org. Click on “Legislation” in the left panel on the Main Home Page.