Just before the August recess, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1108 (326 yeas – 102 nays), a bill to grant the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. With NTEU’s support, the bill included an Oversight Committee amendment providing credit to federal employees covered under the FERS system to count unused sick leave towards their retirement pension calculation. Under the bipartisan agreement, FERS-covered employees will receive credit for 75 percent of their unused sick leave for three years after the bill becomes law. After the three year period, 100 percent of the unused sick leave will apply for pension purposes.
Unlike their CSRS colleagues, FERS employees do not now receive any credit for unused sick leave when they leave federal service. Both groups of employees are dedicated public servants and both groups deserve to have the sick leave counted. NTEU has backed H.R. 5573, the Moran legislation to provide a lump sum payment for unused sick leave. Fortunately, an opportunity arose to improve the Moran bill and add provisions to allow credit to be given in retirement calculations rather than provide a one-time lump sum. While this is very similar to the CSRS treatment, please remember that FERS and CSRS are two distinctively designed retirement systems, so there will always be differences in structure and benefits levels. The FERS sick leave provisions and the larger bill still need to pass the Senate and NTEU will continue to fight for this.
Also included in the bill were provisions to improve the Thrift Savings Plan. Under these provisions, long wait periods before enrollment starts have been eliminated. There will be immediate automatic deposits, so that employees will receive government matching funds from their first day. There will be a Roth option available, something that many employees have been asking for. In addition, the bill provides authority to the Thrift Investment Board to investigate the addition of a “self-directed investment window” which would consist of passively-managed index funds and other investment options. The Board will make its determination based on the best interests of the Thrift Fund’s participants and in consultation with the Employee Thrift Advisory Council, of which NTEU is a member.
Finally, with respect to the new authority provided to the FDA to regulate tobacco products, the House-passed measure funds these added responsibilities through user fees. We will now turn our efforts to the U.S. Senate and urge action on H.R. 1108 before the adjournment of the 110th Congress, likely to be in October.