OPM takes over compensation, leave claims

The Office of Personnel Management this year began settling claims involving federal employees' compensation and leave. The effect this change will have on federal employees remains to be seen.

The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1996 transferred most of the claims settlement functions previously performed by the General Accounting Office to the Office of Management and Budget. Last June OMB delegated these functions to various components within the executive branch. As part of that order OMB gave OPM authority to settle claims involving federal employees' compensation and leave with the exception of claims filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

When filing claims for settlement by OPM federal employees can submit them in writing describing the basis for the claim and stating the amount sought. The claim also should include the claimant's name address telephone and fax numbers the name address telephone and fax numbers if available of the agency employee who denied the claim a copy of the denial of the claim and any other information that the claimant believes OPM should consider.

In other cases a government agency may forward a claim to OPM on the claimant's behalf. OPM regulations do not describe the circumstances under which an agency should file a claim on behalf of someone else but this might be appropriate if the claimant is incapacitated.

Claims should be sent to the OPM Claims Adjudication Unit. The claimant is responsible for ensuring that OPM receives all the necessary information as indicated above.

OPM may ask the agency to provide an administrative report that includes the agency's factual findings its legal conclusions with relevant citations the agency's recommendation for disposition of the claim a complete copy of any regulation instruction memorandum or policy used by the agency in making its determination a statement on whether the claimant is a member of a collective bargaining unit and if so a statement on whether the claim is covered by a negotiated grievance procedure that specifically excludes the claim from coverage and any other information that the agency believes OPM should consider.

A claim filed by a claimant's representative (not by the actual claimant) must be supported by a duly executed power of attorney or other documentary evidence of the representative's right to act for the claimant.

All claims must be received by OPM or by the department or agency out of whose activities the claim arose within six years from the date the claim accrued. The claimant must establish the timeliness of the claim the liability of the federal government and the individual's right to payment.

"The settlement of claims is based upon the written record only which will include the submissions by the claimant and the agency " according to OPM regulations. "OPM will accept the facts asserted by the agency absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary."

Stated another way that means OPM will take your government agency's word over yours. I'm not sure I like that position because OPM has a collegial relationship with other agencies that GAO does not have. It's difficult to say at this point whether federal employees can expect to get a fair shake from OPM.

Under GAO's regulations a claimant could appeal an adverse settlement to the Comptroller General. If the appeal were sustained the claimant could request reconsideration of that decision. In contrast the OPM settlement is final although nothing can prevent a dissatisfied claimant from bringing an action in an appropriate U.S. court.

At GAO the initial claims settlement letter was prepared by an adjudicator and was reviewed by an attorney only if the claimant requested an appeal. At OPM all settlement letters except those involving FLSA claims will be reviewed by an attorney before they are issued. OPM also advises claimants of their right to bring an action in court.

"Claims settled by OPM will get substantially the same level of review as claims settled by GAO " OPM wrote.

I'm not sure I buy that but it's premature to judge at this stage of the game. No one ever said that GAO was the quintessential arbiter so who knows?

-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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