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NEWS:

NARFE Legislative Hotline, August 4, 2015

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“With members of both the House and Senate back home for the August recess, now is a perfect time to meet with legislators to share your concerns. In the meantime, NARFE continues to support an administrative rule that would help protect federal employees and retirees from retirement investment advice not in their best interests.”

NARFE Testifies on DOL Rule to Protect Investors from Bad Advice

 On August 12, NARFE President Richard G. Thissen testified before the Department of Labor (DOL) in support of DOL’s Conflict of Interest Rule Proposal, which would update 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.

Much of Thissen’s testimony focused on NARFE’s concern for the federal employees and retirees, as well as uniformed service members, invested in low-fee Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) funds. “Because rollovers are not covered by the existing definition of fiduciary investment advice, financial advisers may legally recommend that account holders roll over their TSP holdings into an IRA, where the money could be invested in mutual funds providing the same, or essentially similar, products,” Thissen said. “For example, money could be moved to an S&P 500 index fund, for as much as 20 times the cost of the C Fund, the TSP’s S&P index fund.”

 Land Management Workforce Bill Signed into Law

On August 7, President Obama signed into law H.R. 1531, the Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act, which will make it easier for federal land management agencies to hire temporary seasonal employees for full-time positions.

Introduced by Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-VA, H.R. 1531 will allow employees holding temporary appointments at the Forest Service, Forest Service, Land Management Bureau, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Affairs Bureau and Reclamation Bureau to be hired for permanent positions based on internal merit procedures, just as permanent federal employees are eligible to do.

Presently, temporary seasonal employees can work a maximum of six months per year for which they do not receive retirement benefits or the opportunity for career advancement. When their work is not required, these employees are terminated but often rehired the following season. This legislation will allow those temporary employees to be hired for positions as permanent seasonal employees. Permanent seasonal employees also work part of the year, but are placed on furlough when their work is not required. Permanent seasonal employees also receive benefits as other full-time employees do. This will benefit approximately 10,000 temporary employees.

NARFE supports the enactment of this bill.

Retirement Fraud Prevention Bill Passes Senate

A bill aimed at protecting federal retirement funds from embezzlement was passed by the Senate on August 5. Introduced by Sens. James Lankford, R-OK, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, the Representative Payee Fraud Prevention Act (S. 1576) would make it illegal for retiree representatives to misuse federal retirement funds.

The bill would grant authority to U.S. attorneys to prosecute financial representatives who misuse funds from the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Under the law, embezzlement of funds would be classified as a felony, providing the same protections that recipients of Social Security and Veterans benefits receive.

The bill now awaits consideration by the House. NARFE supports the legislation.

Congress in Recess; Legislative Hotline Pending

Both the House and Senate have adjourned for August recess, and members will return on Tuesday, September 8. This extended recess is the perfect time for NARFE members across the country to meet with legislators. NARFE members can participate in Grass-Roots Advocacy Month by attending town hall meetings, community events or meetings with legislators. Visit NARFE's Toolkits, specifically the "Legislative Activities at the Individual Level Toolkit," to find out how you can participate in Grass-Roots Advocacy Month.

To assist you further, the State Specific Federal Family Fact Sheet has been updated. This document will show your elected officials how many people work for the federal government and where they work in your state. It also includes the number of postal employees and retirees, federal retirees and survivors in each state. Sharing this personalized information can be highly persuasive when meeting with your representative and senators.

We know that when legislators hear from their constituents, they react. Now is the time to remind your elected officials that NARFE members pay attention – even when our issues aren’t on the front page. We need your voice!

Due to the August recess, the Hotline will be published on an as-needed basis until September 11.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center /h4>

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 August 14, 2015

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NARFE Legislative Hotline, July 31, 2015

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“Before the House adjourned for the summer recess, we saw some movement on legislation affecting the federal community. A bill limiting VA employees’ rights passed the House this week, which could create a slippery slope for employees across the federal government. Two positive bills for the federal community were also recently introduced, one to adopt the CPI-E when calculating COLAs and another to protect the postal service. Learn about all of these issues below.”

 House Takes Step to Limit VA Employees’ Rights

Operating under the guise of “accountability,” the House of Representatives this week passed legislation to limit the protections provided to employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill, the VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994), was approved by a largely party-line vote of 256-170. Supporters of the bill claim it’s too difficult to fire federal employees; the nearly 2,600 employees terminated for cause at the VA in the last fiscal year might disagree. It has drawn a veto threat from the White House.

Specifically, under the legislation, a terminated employee would have to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) within seven days of removal. MSPB would have to rule within 45 days of the appeal filing. The legislation also limits the amount of time an employee can be on administrative leave to 14 days in a one-year period. The bill changes the probationary period for new hires at the VA to 18 months (from the previous 12), and gives the secretary the authority to extend it further. An article in Government Executive provides an excellent look at all the bill’s provisions.

The legislation closely mirrors a bill signed into law last year targeting senior executives at the VA. The approval of legislation now spanning the entire VA workforce should come as no surprise, and one could logically conclude this is the next step in trying to limit employee rights across the federal government. NARFE opposes the legislation. The cover story in the September edition of narfe magazine focuses on this issue. Watch for it.

 CPI-E Bill Reintroduced in the House Rep.

 Michael Honda, D-CA, reintroduced H.R. 3351, the CPI-E Act of 2015, which would adopt the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), rather than the current Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), as the measure for determining annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security beneficiaries, federal and military annuities, and certain veterans’ benefits.

 It is the position of NARFE that the current CPI-W fails to accurately measure seniors’ costs and spending habits, particularly related to health care. Individuals ages 65 and older allocate 13 percent of their spending toward health care costs compared to the 5 percent allocated by the general public. COLAs would be larger using the CPI-E and would more accurately reflect seniors’ real costs.

NARFE supports this legislation. To send a letter asking your representative to cosponsor the bill, click here.

 Bill Aimed at Rural Mail Delivery Introduced in the Senate

 Earlier this month, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, introduced S.1742, the Rural Postal Act, to preserve and improve U. S. Postal Service mail delivery in rural areas. The bill restores overnight service standards, places a two-year moratorium on the closure of additional mail processing plants, makes six-day mail delivery permanent, and protects rural post offices from unnecessary closures or reductions in hours. The legislation also protects current residences and businesses from conversion to clusterboxes.

 NARFE supports this legislation. Postal reform is likely to gather more momentum when Congress returns to Washington after the recess. Stay tuned for more updates!

 Congress in Recess, Legislative Hotline Pending

 The House adjourned this week for the August recess, with the Senate scheduled to begin its recess at the end of next week. Both the House and Senate will return on Tuesday, September 8. This extended recess is the perfect time for NARFE members across the country to meet with legislators. NARFE members can participate in Grass-roots Advocacy Month by attending town hall meetings, attending community events or meeting with legislators. Visit NARFE's Toolkit, specifically the "Legislative Activities at the Individual Level Toolkit," to find out how you can participate in Grass-Roots Advocacy Month.

To assist you further, the State Specific Federal Family Fact Sheet has been updated. This document will show your elected officials how many people work for the federal government and where they work in your state. It also includes the number of postal employees and retirees, federal retirees and survivors in each state. Sharing this personalized information can be highly persuasive when meeting with you Representative and Senators.

We know that when legislators hear from their constituents, they react. Now is the time to remind your elected officials that NARFE members pay attention – even when our issues aren’t on the front page. We need your voice!

Due to the August recess, the Hotline will be published on an as-needed basis until September 11.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center /h4>

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 July 31, 2015

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NARFE Legislative Hotline, July 24, 2015

Message From NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“A big thanks to all the NARFE members who took action this week and last to protect their benefits. With the help of thousands of NARFE members who sent email messages and made phone calls to their senators, NARFE successfully defended against a congressional raid on the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) G Fund. This week, NARFE also commented on a proposed rule that would ensure you receive the best retirement advice when considering moving your TSP holdings. Finally, late in the week, a Senate committee approved an amendment to provide additional protection for federal employees and others who were affected by the cyberattacks at the Office of Personnel Management. More information on all of these is provided below. You made the difference!”

NARFE Wins Fight to Protect the TSP … for Now

During consideration of legislation to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund, senators were looking at a proposal to use the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to pay for the bill. The proposal, which originated in the fiscal year 2016 House Budget Resolution, would have reduced the rate of return on the TSP G Fund and used the proposed savings to pay for the Trust Fund reauthorization. Specifically, the proposal would have changed the rate of return on the G Fund from 2.25 percent annually to 0.02 percent.

Before the bill text was finalized, NARFE members went on the offensive, with thousands of phone calls and emails, telling their senators not to use their hard-earned retirement savings as a budget tool to pay for unrelated legislation. NARFE President Richard G. Thissen also sent a letter to the Senate, and NARFE signed two other letters from coalition partners, asking for the proposal to be rejected. The blitz worked, and the provision was not included in the highway bill.

Thank you to all the NARFE members who took action to protect the retirement security of all federal employees and retirees and military personnel.

NARFE Submits Comments in Support of DOL Fiduciary Rule

On July 17, NARFE submitted comments in support of the Department of Labor’s Conflict of Interest Rule Proposal, which would update the definition of “fiduciary investment advice” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The new rule would ensure individuals saving for retirement are protected by a “best interest” standard when receiving investment advice. The public comment period closed July 21. NARFE also sent its comments to the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety in advance of its July 21 hearing regarding the proposed rule.

“NARFE is 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 are not adequately protected from bad financial advice regarding their TSP holdings,” explained NARFE President Thissen in the comments. To read the full NARFE comments, click here.

OPM Breach Update and Legislative Action

This week, NARFE staff met with Office of Personnel Management (OPM) staff to discuss ways to improve the OPM website and dissemination of information to those impacted by the two cybersecurity breaches at the agency. OPM continues to update its website: https://www.opm.gov/cybersecurity/.

On July 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed action on the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which addressed the breaches. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-MD, offered an amendment to provide greater protection to federal employees whose personal information may have been compromised in the OPM data breaches. The amendment provides for not fewer than 10 years of credit-monitoring services and $5 million in liability protection for related damages. The committee approved the amendment. The bill now goes to the full Senate.

OPM Cyberattack Review

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), 4.2 million individuals were affected by the first incident targeting personnel records, and those people have been notified.

In the second breach, sensitive information, including the Social Security numbers of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from background investigation databases. This includes 19.7 million individuals who applied for a background investigation and 1.8 million nonapplicants, predominantly spouses or cohabitants of applicants. If an individual underwent a background investigation through OPM in 2000 or later (which occurs through the submission of forms SF 86, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions; SF 85, the Questionnaire for Non-Sensitive Positions; or SF 85P, the Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions, for a new investigation or periodic reinvestigation), it is highly likely that the individual is impacted by this cyberbreach. These individuals have not been notified yet. Notification will not be sent and protection services will not be offered until a contractor is selected by mid-August.

If you have questions, please contact NARFE’s Federal Benefits Service Department at fedbenefits@narfe.org or 703-838-7760. NARFE continues to update its OPM Security Breach webpage.

Good Advice on Contacting Congress

Earlier this week, Roll Call published an op-ed from the Congressional Management Foundation on how to write a better letter to Congress. NARFE’s Legislative Department staff encourages NARFE members to personalize and edit the messages available on the NARFE Legislative Action Center. The suggestions made in the Roll Call piece are a great reminder of how to make your letter stand out to your legislators and their staff. Be sure to repeat your message from the letter when speaking to your member of Congress at community events during the August recess.

 Accessing the Legislative Action Center /h4>

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 July 24, 2015

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