The Trump administration has said it will seek several changes in basic federal employee benefits policies, although in stating that intent in its budget proposal it left many questions unanswered.
As with its only broad-brush recommendations regarding pay for performance and disciplinary policies, the administration would have to fill in the details before Congress could act on them.
The budget for example proposes to combine annual and sick leave “into one paid time off category.” That approach has worked well in the private sector, it argues, and applying it to the government would give federal employees more flexibility.
However, in the federal government context, many complications would arise that the proposal does not address. Among them are that under current policy there are annual carry-over limits on annual leave, but not on sick leave; and that at retirement an employee’s unused annual leave is paid as cash while unused sick leave is credited as time served in the annuity calculation. It is unknown how such differences would be accounted for. There are other forms of paid leave that would have to be accounted for as well.
The plan further supports creating a short-term disability insurance policy as a new benefit, an idea that has been raised over the years by both parties, including in a House bill recently sponsored by a Democrat. Such a benefit would cover conditions that are not work-related and thus not covered under the FECA workplace injury compensation program, but lasting long enough that employees commonly would exhaust their sick and other paid leave. However, the level of benefits and the costs of such insurance—and whether the government would contribute toward the premiums—have never been explored in detail.
One commonly cited purpose for disability insurance is to provide a paid time for parental leave. The budget repeats a proposal for six weeks of such leave but seeks to fund it through private sector unemployment compensation programs. Last year’s proposal would have extended to federal employees but that is not specified in the latest budget.
Contrary to what some reported before its release, the budget does not recommend eliminating the FERS civil service benefit for employees hired in the future. Instead, it “funds a study to explore the potential benefits, including the recruitment benefit, of creating a defined-contribution only annuity benefit for new federal workers, and those desiring to transfer out of the existing system.”
The presumption underlying such proposals is that in lieu of an annuity benefit, such a system would include larger employer contributions to the TSP than the government pays under FERS. In response to a request from the House Oversight committee, the CBO last year outlined several possible formulas, but the idea never progressed beyond that.