March 8, 2012
By Amanda Palleschi
The Defense Department recently announced plans to streamline the agency that manages its military health benefit program, creating a new Defense Health Agency.
According to Nextgov’s Bob Brewin, the new agency will assume responsibility for common clinical and business processes across the Military Health System, such as medical education for physicians, nurses, medics, pharmacists, medical logistics and health information technology. The department is currently assembling a team to design the consolidation.
The plan, included in the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill, still falls short of a 2006 Defense Business Board recommendation for TRICARE realignment, Brewin writes. The independent panel called for the creation of a unified combatant command — a unit not specific to Army, Navy or Air Force — that is led by a four-star general or admiral.
Still, the new Defense Health Agency represents an elevated status for military health care within the department. It will be run by a three-star general or admiral — two grades higher in military rank than the current TRICARE director, Army Brig. Gen. Bryan Gamble.
According to Federal News Radio, DoD sees the plan as “the appropriate next step in establishing structure and improving the governance of the Military Health System while reigning in health care costs.”
The Obama administration’s fiscal 2013 budget request asks Congress to approve new TRICARE co-pays, additional increases to TRICARE Prime enrollment fees, initiation of standard and extra enrollment fees, and adjustments to deductibles and catastrophic coverage caps.
Military, Vets Included in FHA Plans
The White House is boosting support for military service members and veterans hit by the housing crisis with a Federal Housing Administration
President Obama announced this week additional protections for military members and veterans “wrongfully foreclosed upon or denied a lower interest rates on their mortgages.”
The White House said federal and state authorities will work together to:
- Conduct a review of every servicemember foreclosures since 2006 and provide any who were wrongly foreclosed upon with compensation equal to a minimum of lost equity, plus interest and $116,785.
- Refund to servicemembers money lost because they were wrongfully denied the opportunity to reduce their mortgage payments through lower interest rates;
- Pay $10 million dollars into the Veterans Affairs fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms for veterans.
FEDweek Weekly Newsletter: Wed, March 7, 2012
1. Promotional Opportunities Lie Ahead
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2012 12:34:10 -0800
Mid-level federal managers may have better than usual opportunities for promotions into the
SES in the years ahead, with 35 percent of SESers currently eligible to retire, 53 percent
eligible to retire in three years, and 64 percent being eligible to retire within the next
five years. The data, gathered by the Partnership for Public Service, showed that agencies
with at least 40 percent of SESers being currently eligible include Agriculture, Education,
HUD, Interior, Labor, State, VA, NRLB, NSF, SBA and SSA. About 70 percent of senior execs are
in the Washington, D.C. area. It also noted that only 7 percent of senior execs are hired from
outside government, 11 percent were graduates of SES candidate development programs, while the
rest were hired from inside the government but not through such programs.
2. Lack of Mobility Rapped
The report further decried the lack of mobility among SES members, finding that only 8 percent
have worked in more than one agency during their tenure in the executive cadre, which was
envisioned as a mobile group of problem-solvers but in practice has become more of a top level
for program experts, the report said. Another 44 percent have changed assignments within an
agency or a subcomponent, but nearly half, 48 percent, have never changed positions. It noted
that in many cases, a reassignment would not require a geographic move. But it said that agencies
are reluctant to let go of their execs for assignments elsewhere and that individuals often see
rotations as a punishment or as an unrewarding career move.
3. Base Closings Proposal Examined
The House is holding hearings this week on the administration’s proposal for two more rounds of
DoD base closings, with the dust still not settled on the closings and realignments ordered by
the most recent such effort. The most recent round of closings was ordered in 2005 but
implementation officially carried through fiscal 2011 and in some cases employees still have not
moved into their newly assigned space. The administration’s proposal is tied to its long-term
defense spending plans as they exist under current projections, but a complicating factor is that
significant cuts in defense spending may begin next year under the debt ceiling agreement reached
last year, unless offsets are found elsewhere. Some members of Congress are strongly opposed to
more base closings. One compromise already being floated would be to order a study of the most
recent round’s cost and savings figures, its impact on federal and contractor employees, traffic
and other factors, which likely would push off a decision on creating a new commission until next
year at least.
4. FSA Grace Period Reminder
Federal employees who had flexible spending accounts last year and who did not spend down all the
money in those accounts still have until March 15 to incur reimbursable expenses against last year’s
accounts. Money in FSA accounts not used by the end of the grace period is “use or lose”–that is,
the money can’t be carried over from one plan year to the next. Reimbursement claims related to
expenses to be charged to last year’s accounts must be filed no later than April 30.
5. Electronic Deposit Reminder
The Treasury is sending out reminders that certain federal benefits including federal retirement
annuities and Social Security will no longer be available through paper checks starting next March.
Anyone receiving paper checks and who has not elected by that time to receive payments either by
direct deposit or on a debit card will be switched to the debit card by default at that time. While
virtually all federal employees receive their salaries electronically, about a tenth of beneficiaries
in retirement and veterans programs still receive paper checks.
6. FEGLI Rate-Setting, Other Issues Examined
GAO recently examined rate-setting and other issues in the FEGLI program. For a closer look, go to
http://www.fedweek.com in the hot free info section of our website.
7. Expert’s View: Children’s Benefits—Annuities
The rules governing the annuity payments to children are the same for CSRS and FERS employees and retirees, writes benefits expert Reg Jones.. “However, the annuity payments to a child of a CSRS-Offset or FERS employee/retiree will be reduced by the amount of the Social Security benefit payable based the
employee/retiree’s Social Security-covered federal service,” he writes. You’ll find his column at
8. Retirement Processing Falls Short of Goals
As might be expected given the long-running criticisms of OPM’s retirement application processing system,
that system fell short of its customer satisfaction goals in 2011, OPM reports. It said that despite the
criticisms of delays in adjudicating claims that leave some applicants receiving only partial annuities
for many months, 76 percent of retirees surveyed said they were satisfied or very satisfied with
retirement customer service—but that was well below the goal of 88 percent, and was down by 11 percentage points from 2007. Average processing time was 125 days, which met OPM’s goal, but that was four times longer than the average of five years ago. OPM noted that it recently launched another overhaul of the application processing system, with a goal of having 90 percent of all claims adjudicated within 60 days.
9. TSP Funds Positive Again
Every TSP fund posted positive returns in February for the second straight month, with the international
stock I fund up 5.14 percent, the large company stock C fund up 4.34 percent and the small company stock S fund up 3.99 percent. Their 12-month returns are -7.68, 5.16 and 2.16 percent, respectively. The government securities G fund gained 0.12 percent in February and the bond F fund gained 0.05 percent, for 12-month gains of 2.24 and 8.48 percent, respectively. The February and 12-month returns of the lifecycle funds are: income, 0.98, 2.86; 2020, 2.53, 2.46; 2030, 3.1, 2.35; 2040, 3.54, 2.15; 2050, 3.99, 1.57.
10. Federal Legal Corner: Threat of Discipline Found to be Reprisal
On December 16, 2011, the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations (OFO) issued its decision in Malekpour v. Department of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0720100016. OFO upheld the administrative judge’s finding that threatening Malekpour with discipline for refusing to mediate claims associated with his EEO complaint constituted EEO reprisal.
Malekpour was an aerospace engineer working for the Federal Aviation Administration. Malekpour had a
workplace dispute with a coworker in October 2007, an issue which he amended into his preexisting EEO
harassment complaint. On December 17, 2007, an agency manager approached Malekpour and asked him to attend a mediation to attempt to resolve issues relating to the October 2007 incident. Malekpour refused, stating that he did not want to resolve any issues relating to his EEO complaint at this mediation, that he did not want to jeopardize his EEO complaint by participating in the mediation, and that management was attempting to force him to attend mediation so that he might drop some of the matters related to his EEO complaint. In response, the manager yelled to Malekpour, and threatened to discipline him for refusing to attend the mediation.. The mediation never occurred, and no discipline was imposed on Malekpour. Malekpour later amended this incident into his preexisting harassment complaint.
An EEOC administrative judge rejected most of Malekpour’s claims, but found that the December 2007 incident constituted retaliation against Malekpour for his protected EEO activity. As a remedy, the administrative judge ordered the agency to pay $3,000 in compensatory damages to Malekpour for emotional pain and suffering.
The agency rejected the administrative judge’s decision and appealed to OFO.
On appeal, OFO affirmed the administrative judge’s decision. OFO upheld the administrative judge’s finding
that Malekpour had engaged in protected EEO activity by filing a harassment complaint against the agency. OFO affirmed the finding below that management’s public humiliation of Malekpour and threats to discipline him for refusing to attend the mediation could deter a reasonable employee from protected EEO activity. Thus Malekpour had suffered a harm which could give rise to an EEO reprisal claim.
Although the agency had articulated an alleged legitimate reason for its conduct (claiming that the mediation
was to resolve workplace issues and not under EEO auspices and that Malekpour was being berated to get him to attend a team-building conference), OFO found that excuse to be pretext. OFO specifically noted the testimony showing that that the manager’s threat to discipline Malekpour came after Malekpour had specifically cited concerns over not wanting to mediate his EEO claims. OFO further affirmed the amount of compensatory damages awarded by the administrative judge and affirmed the administrative judge’s findings of no discrimination for the rest of Malekpour’s claims.
* 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
The attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C, are the authors of The Federal Employees Legal Survival Guide, Second Edition, a comprehensive overview of federal employees’ legal rights. To order your copy, go to
http://www.passmanandkaplan.com/CM/Custom/Federal-Employees-Survival-Guide.asp. This book originally sold for $49.95 plus s&h, but is now available for $29.95 plus s&h.