Each February, Black History Month reminds us that Black history is American history. We celebrate the contributions our Black members have made and continue to make to our association, to public service, and to our country. We are proud to be an ally and advocate for our Black colleagues by supporting policies and legislation that increase opportunities for Black federal workers while affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity across government.
This year, the theme of Black History Month is Black Health and Wellness. Recognizing that, and that this is also American Heart Month, we invite you to take a moment this month to learn more about heart disease so you and your loved ones can get early diagnosis and treatment. Check out these resources to get started:
- NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's information on coronary heart disease;
- CDC's heart disease risk factors;
- HealthyPeople.gov's resources for heart disease and stroke;
- MedlinePlus.gov's roundup of resources for heart diseases; and
- SecondsCount.org's list of common heart conditions in children.
First, we wanted to make our members aware of a change to how some announcements are posted to USAJobs. Our National Board identified some announcements this week which limit the number of applications. In other words, rather than the announcement closing at a set date and time, it may close earlier should the maximum number of applications be received. This is a practice in other agencies and is a longstanding practice in the legislative branch. If you are looking for another role, be sure your application materials are up-to-date now and set a calendar reminder to update them periodically so that you are always prepared to submit. This way, you won't miss your chance should the opportunity you're seeking open up and then have an applicant limit. We will raise questions and concerns about this process in our meeting with IRS HCO this month. After speaking with our colleagues across the government, we learned that this system can lead to some bad behavior among hiring managers and we want to be sure that the IRS is monitoring announcements so that everyone has a fair shot.
In the media, the Commissioner's plan for an inventory surge team was well-received. An IRS spokesperson shared publicly that the plan involves 1,200 former AM employees who will be detailed back to AM through at least September 30, 2020. PMA does have several questions and concerns about this plan and we look forward to raising them in our meeting this month with IRS HCO. Primarily, we are concerned that the IRS failed to meet its contractual obligation to consult with PMA ahead of announcing this plan. We also want to be sure that our members losing staff to this initiative have an opportunity to revise their commitments so that they are not held accountable to now-unmeetable metrics. We do support this strategy and believe that it represents Commissioner Rettig's best shot at tackling the millions of cases backed up at the start of our filing season - we just want to be sure that the plan is thought through completely and that the ramifications of it on other operations is understood.
The Individual and Business Master Files (IMF, BMF) celebrate their 60th birthday this year! PMA wants to help Congress and the American public appreciate how badly the IRS needs modernization funding. Part of our IMF/BMF@60 campaign will feature facts and context to help frame the true age of our primary computing database. As a reminder, the IRS still relies on the oldest continually operating database in the entire federal government.
The iconic TWA Flight Center at New York's JFK Airport (then Idlewild) opened to passengers just as the IMF and BMF were introduced to the IRS workforce. The midcentury modern-style terminal was in use until TWA shuttered in 2001. In December 2001, its new tenant, American Airlines, determined that the facility was too antiquated for use as a terminal and it closed. The facility now operates in part as the TWA Hotel, after an historic restoration and redesign completed in 2019.
Some good news on the prospects for the 2023 pay increase. President Biden proposed Friday a 4.6% pay raise for federal workers. This is the largest pay raise proposal for feds in decades. In Congress, we are working with Senator Brian Schatz and Representative Gerry Connolly to pass the FAIR Act. This bill would provide federal workers with a 5.1% pay increase (4.1% base, 1% locality) in 2023. We will keep you updated on the bill's progress. As a matter of policy, PMA always advocates for Congress to legislate pay raises so that those funds are appropriated. We believe our members have earned a 5.1% increase and that Congress owes it to you to fund that raise so you aren't left to do a job with fewer resources.
We are pleased to share that the PMA-endorsed Honoring Civil Servants Killed in the Line of Duty Act, which modernizes and increases death benefits and funeral allowances for federal workers killed while engaged in public service, was voted out of committee this week. We are grateful to Senators Gary Peters and Rob Portman for their leadership and for considering PMA's wishes during the committee's business meeting this month. Now the bill awaits a full vote on the Senate floor.
OPM proposed a rule last month which would rescind much of the guidance it had issued under the prior administration regarding probationary periods, reductions in grade for unacceptable performance, settlement agreements, and more. PMA has been reviewing the proposal in detail and expressed concerns formally to OPM this week. While we had reservations with these regulations at the time, they did provide clarity where once there was none. We desire a strong, central source of workforce regulations which provide clarity and consistency so our members can handle poor performers without dreading the years-long battle ahead of them. Our members know that our systems for handling bad employees are broken and it does everyone a disservice to add additional uncertainty in a moment where we need straightforward, unconfused policies.
Talks resumed this week in the Senate to fund the government with a proper series of appropriations bills ahead of the February 18th continuing resolution expiration. PMA held meets with the House Appropriations Committee, House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee to share our members' stories and advocate for additional resources for the agency. It appears that the funding bills will include a form of pandemic-related stimulus but it was unclear from our discussions what that will look like. Lawmakers were uniformly confident that the government will remain open and that they will reach a deal this month.
The Build Back Better Act, which would provide an historic $80 billion investment in the IRS over 10 years, was back in the news this week. Senator Joe Manchin appears to have an appetite for a large-scale tax overhaul bill which would clearly have implications for the Service. We remain optimistic that the IRS funding provisions will eventually become law - all of our Hill engagement suggests that senators largely support fixing the IRS.
PMA's 2022-23 merit scholarship program application period is underway. Students can start an application anytime and must submit no later than our deadline: Thursday, March 24, 2022, at 3:00pm Eastern. PMA awards ten $2,000 scholarships annually and we are proud to do so for another school year.For complete program information, downloadable program instructions, and a link to the application, please visit PMA's official charity and scholarship partner FEEA, www.feea.org/scholarships.
When you apply, be sure to review this article to help avoid accidentally being flagged for plagiarism, which may result in your application being disqualified. In this helpful video, FEEA's Senior Program and Operations Director Niki Gleason shares some things to watch out for, along with the most common reasons applicants are disqualified.
Not applying but still want to be involved? We're always looking for volunteers to help read scholarship applications! Applications are reviewed virtually through our scholarship portal. Volunteers spend an average of 10 hours completing their reviews between early April and mid-May. Complete the volunteer application today.
OPM came through for us this week and published helpful information for the workforce relating to performance management. A hybrid workplace is one where a team works from a variety of locations. Some of our members have managed hybrid teams for many years but many of you are having this experience for the first time during this pandemic. You can read the recommendations for employees, supervisors, leadership, and technology tips on OPM's Future of Work site.
Some of the key recommendations for supervisors include:
- Hold performance evaluation meetings in a neutral environment free of noise and distraction (virtual and physical environments);
- Enable teamwork/collaboration and team check-ins by scheduling 5-10 min breaks during meetings for “hallway” chats among employees;
- Utilize technology such as video conferencing to help maintain an in-person connection; and
- Be deliberate and consistent in communication methods and channels; People need to feel they are accepted as part of the group.
The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) will see several changes in the upcoming year, including a new mobile app, online chat assistance, electronic funds transfer and a long-awaited option for investors to purchase mutual funds with their TSP balance. The changes should take effect by this summer.
TSP participants will be able to invest up to 25% of their total TSP balance in the new mutual funds, with a minimum investment of $10,000. Users of the mutual fund trading portion of the TSP plan also would face additional fees to use the system, including a $55 annual access fee, plus a $95 annual service fee if they own any funds and a per-trade fee of $28.75. Specific funds may charge additional fees.
Some of the other changes that TSP participants will be able to look forward to this year include:
- A new mobile app: The new, official TSP app will let users view all their TSP information, manage their investments and contact the agency for assistance through their mobile devices. Users also will be able to use added security measures, such as facial recognition, fingerprint identification or other methods to increase the security of their account.
- Live assistance and virtual chat: Users will be able to chat with a live representative during business hours, using the mobile app or website. There also will be a new virtual assistant that provides answers to many common questions.
- Updated electronic funds handling: Users will be able to complete many transactions online, including transferring money to and from different retirement accounts, making loan payments and even submitting many forms that now will be accepted with an electronic signature.
Planning to retire? Take a look at these recent pieces by federal benefits expert Tammy Flanagan on your responsibilities and on costly errors. PMA members are eligible for a complimentary financial counseling session with our financial advisor to assist you in your retirement planning.
This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans will cover the costs of up to eight COVID-19 at-home tests per month. The CMS expects this new benefit to be available in the early spring and will give participants the same access to tests as those with FEHB plans.
Discipline related to the vaccine mandate is paused while a case makes its way through the courts. Still, it's never too late to begin your vaccine series - to find a vaccine appointment near you, visit www.vaccines.gov or www.vacunas.gov.