Welles: Looking back at 2006

I predicted last year that telework and retirement planning would be at the forefront of work/life concerns in 2006, and I was right

I predicted last year that telework and retirement planning would be at the forefront of work/life concerns in 2006. Bull’s-eye! The threat of pandemic flu focused our attention on telework, and the phenomenon of some baby boomers turning 60 this year prompted the Office of Personnel Management to speak frequently about a retirement tsunami.

OPM encouraged agencies to work off-site to help the agency test its preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic. The Defense Department’s Defense Information Systems Agency expanded telework opportunities in preparation for the agency’s relocation. Telework should benefit DISA employees and reduce federal building expenses.

In focusing on federal retirement, OPM conducted a survey that found more than half of federal workers expect to retire before age 62. Almost four in 10 expect to retire at 59 or younger. The majority of federal employees said they are on track in planning for their retirement, and yet less than half have calculated how much money they need to save to have a comfortable retirement.

OPM intervened by offering additional retirement education for retirees and by training human capital officers to provide retirement information. The agency also began an extensive retirement systems modernization project, which will take about 10 years to complete. Recruitment expanded to fill vacancies and help succession planning. Agencies made an extra effort to reach the next generation by using positive messages about the benefits of federal employment and the flexibilities available to career government employees.

The percentage of pay raises for federal and military employees increased in 2006. For the first time in several years, federal health insurance premiums held steady or dropped slightly for some health plans. More people used health savings to defray health care costs and paid premiums with pretax dollars.

The government also offered its employees dental and vision benefits for the first time, without federal cost sharing. Those benefits, which will take effect in 2007, will be available to all employees, even those with pre-existing conditions.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees association watched for signs of any benefit rollback during 2006, and none occurred. At the same time, no legislative action took place on changes that NARFE sought to enable federal retirees who had also worked in the private sector to receive their full earned Social Security benefits.

Also in 2006, it was revealed that “Deep Throat” had been Mark Felt, a high-level FBI official during Nixon’s years as president. Later in the year, a divided Supreme Court ruled that free speech protection does not apply to government employees who blow the whistle about something related to their jobs. Despite renewed calls for legislative protections, those reforms remained a work in progress.

Union litigation stalled pay-for-performance plans at the Homeland Security Department. Meanwhile, at the Defense and Navy departments, where some employees have participated in pay-for-performance demonstration systems for several years, most employees received ratings high enough to earn salary increases.

Government surveys again showed employees are generally satisfied with the work they do for the federal government. They feel it is important work, and it certainly is. Best wishes for 2007.


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