Federal workers can identify their political inclinations when using social media under revised guidance issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
The revised guidance, issued last week, addresses the Hatch Act restrictions and the use of social media and email, especially during the 2016 presidential election.
Under the Hatch Act, federal employees cannot engage in any political activity while on duty or in the workplace, engage in political in an official capacity, or solicit political contributions. In light of expanded use of social media in a worker's private and official time, the revised guidance clarifies federal workers' use of social media and email as it related to political activity.
The Special Counsel provides guidance in three areas relating to an employee's “Facebook” and “Twitter” account: the use of campaign logos, candidate photographs, and posts from a partisan group or candidate.
Federal employees will be allowed to “display campaign logos or candidate photographs as their cover or header photo situated at the top of their social media profiles.”
They can also “display campaign logos or candidate photographs as their profile pictures on their personal accounts.” However, they are not allowed when on duty or at the workplace “to post, “share,” “tweet.” or “retweet,” any items. Such action would show support for a particular group or candidate, according to the guidance.
“Further restricted employees” (mostly federal employees working in law enforcement or intelligence agencies) may “like” a post from a partisan group or candidate and can comment on a group's or candidate's page while not at work. However, these employees may not “like” at any time a post that solicits contributions
Even with this revised guidance, some situations are not clear cut for federal employees. For further information, employees can view the Frequently Asked Questions guidance referred to in the Special Counsel memorandum.
This week the Senate passed the FY2016 Military Construction(MilCon)/Veterans Affairs appropriations bill by a vote of 93-0. The House passed its version of the bill in April.
The bill provides $80 billion for FY2016 MilCon/VA discretionary appropriations, over $2 billion more than the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in May and $1 billion higher than the president's request.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), commending the bipartisan work of the committee and the full Senate, said the bill “is the first stand-alone appropriations measure amended, debated,and passed in the Senate since 2001. This year also marks the first time since 2009 that all 12 appropriations bills were approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
This is the first FY2016 appropriations bill to pass in the Senate and also in both the House and Senate. The House has passed six FY 2016 appropriations bills but, until now, Senate Democrats have kept appropriations bills from coming to a vote on the Senate floor through procedural means. Last week they blocked consideration of the FY2016 Department of Defense Appropriations bill.
However, after a budget agreement was reached last month Senate Democrats now appear ready to move forward on FY2016 appropriations. However, because of concerns over possible policy riders (such as defunding Planned Parenthood) proposed by Republicans on separate appropriations bills, Democrats want to put all 12 appropriations in one omnibus appropriations bill. They supported the FY2016 MilCon/VA bill as a possible vehicle for such an omnibus bill.
Congress returns from the Veteran's Day recess next week with four weeks remaining until the Continuing Resolution (CR) funding the government expires (December 11). The question is: Can Republicans and Democrats agree on an omnibus appropriations bill in that time or will another CR be needed to provide time to reach agreement? Or will we be brought to the brink of government shutdown once again?
The ASMC National Achievement Awards nomination period is now open!
Any personnel in the -.3pt”> Department of Defense or the -.3pt”> United States mso-font-width:99%”> Coast Guard (to include National Guard or Reserve Components) may nominate a person or team who has demonstrated -.05pt”>outstanding performance, including exceptional achievements. If the nomination -.35pt”> is through an ASMC -.05pt”>Chapter, chapters must submit all qualified nominations received. Each nomination must be submitted via the ASMC Awards Online website by the published deadline. 1.75pt”>
More information about the nomination process is available here.
Today the House passed by a wide margin (370-58) a revised FY2016 National Defense Authorization bill that meets the parameters set out in the budget agreement.
The revised bill aligns FY2016 defense funding with the agreement by adjusting the total DoD amount downward by $5 billion.
The new bill provides almost $607 billion including about $580 billion for total DoD, $18.6 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program and $7.6 billion to meet the statutory requirements for DoD Concurrent Receipt payments.
The new bill cuts added amounts in the original bill by almost $1 billion, including $250 million for Army readiness, $192.5 million for Army National Guard readiness, $150 million for the DDG-51, and $100 million for PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement. The bill also increase cuts made in the original by by over $700 million including $455 million more for planned DoD headquarters streamlining.
Additional reductions of $855 million include $262.5 million for Army civilian hiring targets, $100 million to classified programs, $90.1 million for unjustified growth in the Defense Information System Network, and $50 million for reduced THAAD purchases. The bill also increases cuts to fuel purchases by $1.1 million due to lower fuel prices.
The revised bill also reduces Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding by $782 million, including a $250 million cut to the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, $100 million to coalition support, and $125milion to the Syria train and equip program.
No other changes were made to the original bill. It still includes a 1.3 percent military pay raise, reforms to military compensation and retirement, and significant reforms to defense acquisition.
The House-passed bill still contains a provision that prevents the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo. The White House had identified this provision as a reason for a veto threat of the earlier bill. In a press conference White House Press Secretary John Earnest did not rule out a possible veto of this biil because of the Guantanamo language, but did say that in any case the president was moving forward with a plan of action to close the prison.
Join the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) at the next Reimbursable Work Orders Day on November 19, 2015, at the Mark Center in Alexandria, VA.
On November 19, 2015, OUSD(C) is hosting a Department-wide conference at the Mark Center in Alexandria, focused on the IPP-IGT initiative. Keynote speakers include Mr. Mark Easton (Deputy Chief Financial Officer, OUSD(C)), The Honorable Mr. Peter Levine (Deputy Chief Management Officer) and Ms. Debra Sonderman (Director, Office of Acquisition and Property Management and Senior Procurement Executive, U.S. Department of the Interior).
Learn more about the program here.
Busy month here at ASMC- as well, I’m sure, for each of you. Following are Happenings from ASMC HQ….
I am extending our Membership Renewal Campaign, which was due to end on 31 Oct until 30 Nov to provide more of you the opportunity to renew and be in a random drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card. Congrats to Agustin Santiago (Twin Cities Chapter) and Gavin Batchelder (Crown of Maine Chapter) who won Aug and Sep drawings. Renew your membership online by 31 Oct and by 30 Nov to be entered in the Oct and Nov drawings, respectively!
Just a reminder, please ensure you update your member profile here as changes (especially home or email address) occur in your contact info. Also, we’re working a programming change to enable you to update your chapter designation when you move to a job at another location and associate with the chapter there. No longer will you need to send a note to us at HQ asking us to do that for you. More to follow when we complete re-programming.
For those of you receiving hard copy of our Armed Forces Comptroller, our next edition should arrive in your mailbox by 16 Nov. Special thanks to those of you who elected to receive only the on-line edition, as that helps us with cost savings. Want to opt for the on-line edition, update your preferences in your member profile. (Once logged in, click “Update Profile” on the left, then scroll down to the bottom of the page.) Didn’t receive or have not had time to read the last issue? Read it online here.
Planning for PDI 2016 is already underway! We will convene in Orlando for this premier training event 1-3 June. I hope to see many of you there, as we’re lining up another great training and professional development event. We will post more info as we have it available at http://www.asmconline.org/pdi/. Missed PDI 2015? You can still obtain great training value by registering for Virtual PDI here.
CDFM training is conveniently conducted year-round with exclusive CDFM Refresher courses offered in two formats, Instructor-Led Classroom Training and Live Online Training. All CDFM Refresher Courses offered are aligned with the DoD FM Certification Program. Sessions are continuously updated and listed here. For DoD employees who wish to take advantage of the 5-day government-funded Enhanced Defense Financial Management (EDFM) Training Course, the schedule for FY2016 is posted on our website. Use the EDFMTC Automated Registration tool to register for this course. In addition, ASMC licensed vendors are also available to deliver the 5-day and other instructor-led courses at your chapter or organization. Click here to learn more about our education and training offerings.
Finally, as many of you already know, Ernest J. Gregory, a former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller), past member of the ASMC National Executive Committee, and friend and mentor to many in the defense financial management community passed away on October 5, 2015 after a valiant three month fight against a brain tumor. Ernie is survived by his loving wife Johanna and his children Maura, Ernest Jr., and Jason. In tribute to Ernie’s exceptional legacy of contributions to our profession and to ASMC, our National Executive Committee honored Ernie by designating one of our premier annual national achievement awards in his name. I look forward to presentation of the “Ernest J. Gregory” Comptroller/Deputy Comptroller of the Year Achievement Award to its first deserving recipient at PDI 2016. Read more about Ernie’s career and also thoughts in memoriam to Ernie here.
Any questions – contact Kathryn R. Grandstaff-Bradford, our Associate Director for Communications and Public Affairs at email@example.com.
American Society of Military Comptrollers
Today the House passed (H.R. 1314) a bipartisan budget agreement (266-167) that would increase the debt ceiling and set budget levels for the next two years. Seventy-nine Republicans joined 187 Democrats in voting for the agreement.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the agreement “a good deal for our troops, for taxpayers, and for the American people.” Boehner said the agreement “will protect our economy” and secure more long-term entitlement reforms.” In addition, he said the agreement “strengthens our national security and brings more certainty to next year’s appropriations process.”
The White House has indicated that the president will sign the bill.
This agreement comes just before the debt ceiling will be breached next week (November 3 according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew) and the Continuing Resolution, which is funding the federal government, runs out on December 11.
Completing the deal was a goal of outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) before he left office. Boehner is set to retire on October 31.
The “Bipartisan Budget Act” would suspend the debt ceiling until March 2017, in effect allowing the government to borrow as much as it needs until then. At that time the debt ceiling would have to be raised.
The new total government funding levels would be $1.067 trillion in FY2016 and $1.070 trillion in FY2017.
Setting new budget levels for 2016 and 2017 will put off the next sequestration battle until after the 2016 elections.
Funding increases would be offset by cuts coming from reforms to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund and Social Security, such as closing loopholes and requiring medical reviews Medicare and extending the Medicare sequester into 2025. Some other savings would come from changes to the crop insurance program and sales form the Strategic Oil Reserve.
The new funding limits (in effect raising the spending caps) provides an additional $80 billion equally divided between defense and nondefense in FY2016 and FY2017, but keeps sequestration in place after that. As a result of the deal, Democrats and the Republicans get some of, but not all of what they wanted. Democrats did not get their desired long-deal that dealt with sequestration, but got matching increases for nondefense spending in 2016 and 2017. Republicans got defense increases in 2016 and 2017 and achieved some entitlement reform, but did not get cuts to nondefense programs.
Defense base budgets would be raised by $25 billion in FY2016 under the agreement. Funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account would be increased by $8 billion in FY2016. These increases replace the Republican backed approach to use the OCO fund for base budget activities, highly criticized by the White House and congressional Democrats and the major cause of a presidential veto of the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. This agreement should allow Congress to revise the bill to make a presidential signature more likely.
The deal would also stops a potential 52 percent increase in Medicare premiums for some 8 million enrollees. This has been a priority for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and many Republicans and Democrats.
If the bill passes the Senate, as is likely, appropriators will move to finish action on the 12 FY2016 appropriations bills before the CR runs out on December 11. House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) said “it is my goal to complete our Appropriations work ahead of that date to avoid any more delays, continuing resolutions, or ‘shutdown showdowns’ that hurt important federal programs, our economy, and trust in the Congress.”
Yesterday, President Obama vetoed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1735), which passed congress early this month. The president has threatened to veto defense authorization bills throughout his presidency, but this is the first time he has actually taken the veto pen to the defense bill.
Although the president identified opposition to provisions in the bill about detainees at Guantanamo and Congress’ failure to approve requested defense reforms, the main reason for the veto is White House opposition to $38 billion of base budget requirements that the bill includes in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding is considered emergency funding not constrained by the budget caps.
The president and most Democrats oppose this approach because they believe it circumvents the budget act to increase defense spending and could lead to significant cuts to nondefense programs.
In his veto statement, the president called this use of OCO to fund defense base budget requirements “an irresponsible budget gimmick” and charged it “does not provide the stable, multi-year budget upon which sound defense planning depends.” This sentiment has been echoed by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Congressional republicans called the president’s veto irresponsible. House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said the veto was unprecedented and reckless and that the House would move to override.
It is uncertain, but unlikely that Republicans will be able to garner enough votes to override the veto. While some Democrats voted for the final bill in both the House and Senate, Democrat leaders believe they have enough votes to thwart any effort to override.
Both the House and Senate need a two-thirds vote to override the president’s veto. Rep. Thornberry announced the House will hold an override vote in early November. If the override fails in the House, a Senate vote cannot hold an override vote.
If Congress does not override the veto, the bill will go back to the committees to try to work out a bill that the president will sign.
This is President Obama’s fifth veto, a historically small number of vetoes for a president. Congress did not override any of the other four Obama vetoes.
The final FY2015 federal budget deficit was $439 billion, down $44 billion (9 percent) from the FY2014 deficit of $483 billion. This drop in the deficit resulted from higher revenues (+$228 billion) offset by a smaller increase (+$184 billion) in government spending. In July, OMB projected the 2015 deficit would be $455 billion.
This marks the lowest recorded budget deficit since 2007 ($161 billion). From FY2009 to FY2012 the budget deficit exceeded $1 trillion.
Data on government expenditures and receipts and the deficit are reported in the Monthly Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government (MTS) prepared by the Treasury Department.
When measured as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the FY2015 deficit dropped to 2.5 percent from 2.8 percent reported for FY2014. This is the lowest the deficit share of GDP since FY2007 (1.1 percent). During the period FY2009 to FY2012 the deficit’s share of GDP averaged about 8.5 percent.
Revenue growth in 2015 was led by a 10.5 percent increase in individual income tax receipts (+$146 billion). Corporate income taxes rose more than 7 percent (+$23 billion) and social insurance and retirement receipts increased by almost 5 percent (+$23 billion).
Spending on health programs and Medicare increased by $106 billion in FY2015. Social Security spending rose $37 billion and education programs (led by higher spending on student loans) increased by $31 billion. Outlays for national defense declined by $14 billion in FY2015.
OMB expects the brighter deficit picture in FY2015 to continue into 2016. However, both OMB and the Congressional Budget Office warn that deficits will begin to grow again due to revised assumptions showing slower economic growth.
Federal civilian retirees will not receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2016.
This will be the first year since 2011 that federal retirees do not receive a COLA. In 2010 and 2011 retiree pay was frozen along with pay of federal civilian employees. Federal retirees received a 1.7 percent COLA in 2015.
The reason why federal retirees will not receive a COLA in 2016 is that consumer prices have declined over the past year. The annual retiree COLA is calculated as the change in the average Consumer Price Index for Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W)—published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—from the third quarter of the previous year to the third quarter of the current year. BLS reported that the (CPI-W) actually decreased from the third quarter of 2014 to the quarter of 2015, primarily due to the decline in gasoline prices.
Social Security recipients will also not receive a COLA in 2016 as the Social Security Administration uses the same calculation for Social Security COLAs.
In late August President Obama notified Congress that federal civilian employees should receive a 1.3 percent pay raise in 2016. The 1.3 percent pay raise is a combination of a 1.0 percent across-the-board raise announced in last week’s letter and an increase in locality pay raise the president said he will request later this year. If Congress takes no action on the pay raise when it completes the FY2016 appropriations bills, the president can issue an executive order implementing the raise.
Today the Senate passed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (70-27) that reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House passed the conferenced bill last week (270-156).
The Senate vote sets the stage for a presidential veto that the White House has threatened ever since the House passed its version of the bill in May.
Although the president has expressed strong opposition to provisions about detainees at Guantanamo, the main White House concern is the $38 billion of base budget requirements that the bill includes in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is considered emergency funding not constrained by the budget caps. Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended that the president veto the bill. Earlier this year Carter told the Senate Appropriations Committee that this approach “risks undermining support for a mechanism – OCO – meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”
If the president vetoes the bill and the veto is upheld in Congress, the bill would go back to the House and Senate Defense Authorization Committees.
The conferenced bill authorizes a total of almost $612 billion, including about $496 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding includes $50.9 billion requested by the administration and $38 billion in base budget requirements for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) readiness requirements.
The bill also includes $18.6 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. An additional $7.6 billion is provided to meet the statutory requirements for DoD Concurrent Receipt payments.
The agreement approves the president’s request for a 1.3 percent military pay raise, lower than the 2.3 percent military raise included in the House-passed bill.
The bill rejects most of the administration’s proposals for TRI-Care pharmacy co-pays, but does approve an increase in co-pays for brand name and generic medications. Conferees also approved the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) by one percent each year for four years.
The agreement denies the administration’s plan to retire the A-10 attack jet. It also rejects a proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, but directs the preparation of a capacity study that reflects the current threat and “makes conservative assumptions about future end strength.”
The conference report includes reforms to military compensation and retirement. Under the agreement, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD starting in FY2018. The bill also would allow retirement-eligible servicemembers to take from 25 percent to 50 percent of their retirement benefit in a “lump sum.”
The agreement also includes significant reforms to defense acquisition. The bill calls for streamlining the acquisition process by advancing critical decisions, reducing the number of legal certifications, and giving acquisition program managers greater flexibility to address programmatic risk. The bill also makes permanent the “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” requires workforce training on the commercial market, and authorizes expedited authorities for hiring and training the acquisition workforce.
The conference report also includes a provision allowing post commanders to establish procedures (by December 31, 2015) for servicemembers to carry firearms for self-defense on DoD installations, reserve centers, and recruiting centers.
It is with deepest sympathy that we report the passing of Ernest J. Gregory, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller), a past member of the ASMC National Executive Committee, and lifelong friend and mentor to the Department of Defense financial management community. Mr. Gregory passed on October 5, 2015 after a valiant three month fight against a brain tumor. Ernie is survived by his loving wife Johanna and his children Maura, Ernest Jr., and Jason.
Ernie was a lifetime member of ASMC, served as Vice President (Army) from 1999-2000, a speaker at innumerable Professional Development Institutes and Washington Chapter events, and a beloved colleague and friend. His 37 years of service to his country touched and inspired the professional and personal lives of many of us. His tireless efforts focused upon Financial Management support of warfighters and their families and driving high performance in financial operations. Also, his dedication to the training, professional development, and mentoring of others inspired us all. It is with deepest respect and gratitude that the ASMC National Executive Committee has approved naming an ASMC National Achievement Award in honor of Ernie and his contributions to defense financial management. The first annual “Ernest J. Gregory” Comptroller/Deputy Comptroller Achievement Award will be presented to a deserving individual selected based upon his or her outstanding achievements in financial management in the position of a Comptroller or Deputy Comptroller at our National PDI in Orlando during the period 1-3 June 2016.
The following is excerpted from the remarks made on the floor of the Congress on the occasion of his retirement in 2004, by then Congressman Tom Davis, Chair of the House Government Reform Committee:
* * *
Mr. Speaker, it has come to my attention that Mr. Ernest J. Gregory is retiring after 37 years of exemplary Federal service, initially with the United States Air Force and then as a career civil servant in the Department of Defense (DoD). Mr. Gregory is a gifted leader and manager, and has served his country with dignity, honor and integrity. Ernest Gregory, a native of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a 1967 graduate of the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting from that institution. He began his service to the Nation in 1968, when he entered the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer at the Strategic Air Command, Loring Air Force Base, Maine.
Upon completing his military term in 1972, Mr. Gregory was hired as a staff auditor for the U.S. Army Audit Agency in Philadelphia.
In 1982, Mr. Gregory was selected to join the Army secretariat staff as assistant comptroller for internal review, office of the comptroller of the Army. He was a relentless master in reviewing financial management systems and integrating measures to address shortcomings uncovered during the process.
In January 1993, the Army acknowledged Mr. Gregory's abilities and leadership, elevating him to the Senior Executive Service and the position of deputy assistant secretary of the Army for financial operations. As deputy assistant secretary, he was responsible for all Army policy, programs, systems and procedures associated with the service's accounting and finance operations, financial systems and internal review and controls. He took charge of combating fraud, waste and abuse.
Mr. Gregory was again promoted in February 2002, when Ms. Sandra Pack, then assistant secretary of the Army (financial management and comptroller), chose him as her principal deputy. (When she departed the Army in December 2003, he succeeded Ms. Pack as acting assistant secretary and served in that role for eight months.) During his tenure as principal deputy, Mr. Gregory shared responsibility for the development, formulation and advocation of policies and programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. Army resource management. He took bold and decisive measures to improve business procedures, and tirelessly pursued financial system integration and streamlining of Army processes.
On every day of his service to our country, Mr. Gregory demonstrated honor, integrity and personal courage. He projected the values and the broad perspective of the government, and provided the solid executive skills demanded by the American public. He helped to ensure that the Army was of the highest quality and was responsive to the needs, policies and goals of the Nation.
* * *
We will all miss Ernie and our most sincere condolences go out to his family. It was Ernie’s wish that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Cancer Society or to the Wounded Warrior Project organization. Please keep Ernie’s family in your thoughts and prayers and consider making a contribution to one of these great charities in Ernie’s name.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued guidance setting the rules under which federal agencies will operate during the FY2016 Continuing Resolution (CR) enacted (H.R. 719) last week. The CR period runs from October 1 through December 11, 2015.
Under guidance in a memo from Director Shaun Donovan, OMB will apportion (distribute funds to agencies to be available for obligation) funds automatically to appropriations accounts during the CR period, unless language in the CR provides for specific levels of funding or special rules.
The amount provided in the FY2016 CR is the “rate for operations provided in the applicable appropriations acts for fiscal year (FY) 2015 and under the authority and conditions provided in such Acts,” according to the OMB memo. The amount is net of any rescissions, plus or minus mandated transfers, and includes a 0.2108 percent reduction required in the CR (Section 101(b). However, funds designated for Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism and disaster relief are excluded from the 0.2108 percent cut.
OMB calculates the automatic apportionment rate by multiplying the annualized amount by the percentage of the year covered in the CR. In this case the automatic apportionment rate is 19.67 percent to cover the 72-day CR period.
Not all accounts receive funding during the CR period. Agencies cannot obligate funds for accounts for which no funding was included in an FY2016 appropriations bill that has been passed or reported out of committee in either the House or the Senate. If a program (PPA) within an account has not been funded (zero-funded) by the House or Senate, the account will receive an automatic apportionment and the agency can, at its discretion, fund the program within the account total.
The CR does provide limited authority (Section 112) to mitigate civilian furloughs during the CR period. The bill does not provide additional budget authority for this purpose, but allows OMB to apportion for civilian personnel compensation and benefits higher than the pro-rata share. However, OMB advises that agencies must receive written pre-approval to receive a higher rate, but expects few if any written apportionments using this authority.
OMB advises that written requests for amounts higher than the automatic apportionment (“exception apportionments) must include a written justification based on legal grounds. OMB expects, according to the memo, to grant approval for such requests “only in extraordinary circumstances.”
Health Insurance premiums for employees covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will increase an overall average of 6.4 percent in 2016, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced this week.
This average increase is twice the increase registered in 2015 and higher than the increases in 2014 (3.7 percent) and 2013 (3.4 percent).
OPM attributed some of the increase to higher drug costs, which are a higher percentage of FEHB spending than private employers.
The FEHB program covers over 8 million people who can choose from among more than 250 health plans. FEHB plans cover about 85 percent of all federal employees and 90 percent of federal retirees. According to OPM, FEHB is the largest employer-sponsored health benefits program in the U.S.
This year FEHB will offer a Self Plus One enrollment type that will provide coverage for an enrollee and one designated family member (spouse or child). Enrollees can switch to this enrollment type during the open season in November.
While premiums vary with each plan, enrollee’s average bi-weekly payments next year will increase by $5.50 for self-only and by $19.61 for family plans. The federal government pays an average of 72 percent of total premium cost. Premiums for specific plans are available on the OPM website.
The Open Season for health, dental and vision, and flexible spending accounts will start on November 9, 2015 and end on December 14, 2015. Open season allows federal employees and retirees to make changes to their plans and eligible employees to enroll in the plan of their choice.
This afternoon, the House passed (277-151) a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds federal government agencies through December 11, 2015. In the final vote, 91 Republicans joined all voting Democrats (186) in passing the CR.
Earlier today, the Senate passed the CR 78-20 as 32 Republicans joined all 44 Democrats and two Independents (who caucus as Democrats) in voting for passage. The president is expected to sign the bill before the fiscal year begin tomorrow.
The final, fairly bipartisan votes today ended a dramatic week of action on the CR. Last Thursday, the Senate blocked a vote on a CR that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. The 47-52 vote fell far short of the 60 yes votes needed to proceed to a vote. Eight Republican Senators joined 42 Democrats and two Independents in voting against the motion. Then on Monday, the Senate voted 77-19 to proceed to a vote on a CR that does not defund Planned Parenthood.
The CR essentially allows agencies to fund FY2016 programs at the FY2015 level ($1.017 trillion for the total government). The CR also includes funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) at an annual rate of $74.8 billion and provides $700 million in emergency funding to fight wildfires. The bill also extends authority for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six months. During the CR period, no new starts are permitted nor are programs allowed to increase production rates above the FY2015 rate.
The stage is now set for House and Senate leaders to work with the White House to agree on a budget deal before the CR ruins out on December 11. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) want to begin talks with the White House on a two-year deal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been pressing Republicans for months to start discussions on a deal.
However, the bipartisan nature of the final votes on the CR in the House and the Senate today mask the deep divisions that remain between Republicans and Democrats on FY2016 and future appropriations.
Speaker Boehner is scheduled to resign at the end of October and many House Republicans will press for their new leaders to take a hardline position on defense increase, while maintaining budget caps. This would mean cutting nondefense programs, which the Democrats and the White House strongly oppose. At the same time, Senate Democrats continue to threaten to block votes on FY2016 appropriations bills (none of which have moved through Congress) until budget deal discussions show progress. And, the fight to defund Planned Parenthood is not finished.
So, while one fight on FY2016 appropriations has ended, a much larger one, with possibly far greater implications looms.
Today, the Senate defeated a motion to proceed to a vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the government until December 11, 2015, but provide no funding for Planned Parenthood in FY2016.
The 47-52 vote fell far short of the 60 yes votes needed to proceed to a vote on the CR. Eight Republican Senators joined 42 Democrats and two Independents in voting against the motion. Only one Democrat (Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVA) voted to proceed.
Even if the Senate had passed a CR that defunded Planned Parenthood, the president would not have signed the bill. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that threatened a veto of any CR that defunds Planned Parenthood or any other so-called “policy riders.”
With a government shutdown looming on Midnight Wednesday, September 30th, Sen. McConnell will propose a “clean” CR until December 11th. The Senate is expected to begin debate on the CR on Monday.
If the Senate passes a CR early next week, the House only have a day or two to act quickly to keep the government open after September 30th. This time constraint puts pressure on Speaker Boehner come up with a majority vote on a “clean” CR. Sentiment in the House among Republicans appears divided on including a provision to defund Planned Parenthood in a CR. Thirty-one Republicans have pledged to vote against a CR that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, 11 Republican freshman stated their opposition to shutting down the government over such a policy dispute. Democrats appear overwhelmingly to support a clean CR. The question will be how to put together enough votes by next Wednesday to keep the government open.
President Obama announced that he will nominate Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army. If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would succeed John McHugh who has served as Army secretary since September 2009. McHugh has announced he will step down from the post in November.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised the selection calling Fanning “one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants.” Carter said he has confidence that Fanning “will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges."
Fanning is currently serving as Acting Under Secretary of the Army since June 30, 2015. Prior to that he served as The Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Mr. Fanning has also held senior leadership jobs in the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the Navy. From April 2013 to February 2015 he served as the Under Secretary of the Air Force during which time he was Acting Secretary of the Air Force for six months. Fanning was the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy/Deputy Chief Management Officer for four years beginning in 2009.
Prior to serving in the Department of Defense, Fanning held a number of jobs related to national security. In 2009 he was Deputy Director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Prior to that, he was managing director of CMG, a strategic communications company, and Senior Vice President For Strategic Development at Business Executives for National Security (BENS). Fanning was also a Senior Associate for Robinson, Lere & Montgomery (a strategic communications firm) and worked for CBS News in New York. Fanning also served on Capitol Hill as a research assistant with the House Armed Services Committee.
Congress should craft a long-term budget deal now rather than continue budget gridlock by approving a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR), according to five major defense associations.
Leaders of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), Air Force Association (AFA), Navy League, and National Guard Association sent a letter this week urging congress to “work together to avoid an extended continuing resolution or a government shutdown in Fiscal Year 2016.”
The letter warns that an extended CR would hurt national security and the whole economy. CRs “create needless and avoidable inefficiency that wastes taxpayer money,” the letter states. Further, the leaders stress that continuing resolutions make meeting operational needs of the military services more difficult.
The associations urges Congress to avoid putting national security in a “CR trap” that results when continued use of CRs produces longer-term CRs. The associations want Congress to “come together again [as they did after the shutdown in 2013] in a bipartisan fashion and strike a multi-year deal that will create stability and efficiency in our spending.”
Former Department of Defense (DoD) Comptroller Bob Hale (currently a Fellow at Booze Allen Hamilton) has also underscored concerns about long-term CRs recently calling them a “nightmare” for the military. Hale said a year-long CR (continuing defense funding in FY2016 at the FY2015 levels) would produce serious problems for the military services. He argued for a return to long-term stability in defense budgets by fixing sequestration.
Congress is currently debating a bill to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal and working to put together a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after September 30. Both of these issues are staring at a deadline that requires immediate action. Congress has until September 17 to act to either approve or disapprove the Iran nuclear deal. And, of course, funding for the federal government runs out at midnight September 30 unless Congress either passes and president signs all FY2016 appropriations bills or enacts a CR to extend funding into FY2016.
Even if Congress does overcome strong Republican resistance to funding Planned Parenthood and passes a CR before September 30 that extends government funding for a few months, it still has to complete action on all 12 FY2016 appropriations bills, either individually or grouped in mini-omnibus bills, or in one omnibus bill takes. This will take time and hard bargaining, not only among Republicans and Democrats, but with the While House. Complicating this bargaining will be a number of highly-charged political obstacles.
First efforts by Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood movement are not going away. Led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a number of Republicans will try to force a defunding provision in any final deal on appropriations. But, if the president receives a bill that excludes funding for Planned Parenthood he will surely veto it.
Second, Senate Democrats have been urging Republicans to negotiate a new budget deal that changes sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts). Seeing no progress toward budget discussions, Democrats have blocked action to proceed on any appropriations bill in the Senate until budget talks begin.
Complicating any action to change sequestration is a strong desire among most Republicans and some Democrats to increase defense spending. The House-passed FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill adds about $38 billion to defense base budget requirements by including that amount in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This mechanism would get around defense funding caps set in the Budget Control Act.
The White House and Democrats argue that including the additional base budget funding in OCO is bad defense budgeting, does nothing to address sequestration, and could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.
Congress must also complete action on the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill and appear close to completing the conference resolving the differences between the two bills. The major issues to be resolved are TRICARE co-pays, changes to the military retirement system, and provisions regarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Both the House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have expressed confidence that they can finish the conference soon.
Other unfinished legislative items include the Highway and Transit and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)reauthorization bills. Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate agreed on a three-month extension (until October 29) of the highway bill after the House refused to take up the Senate-passed 6-year reauthorization that included controversial measures to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The FAA authorization will expire on September 30. Congress is expected to extend authorization for six to nine months to allow time to work our differences between the House and Senate.
Before the end of the year Congress will also have to deal with increasing the debt. Action on the debt ceiling had been expected in October, but, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), improvement in the FY2015 deficit picture means that Congress will have until late November or early December to act (when Treasury will run out of so-called “extraordinary cash management measures”).
And, in what has become an annual ritual, Congress will have to address some 50 expiring tax credits (so-called tax extenders) that will expire on December 31. These tax credits include individual tax deductions, business incentives (e.g. research and development credits), and energy tax credits. For a number of years Congress has routinely extended these tax credits for only a year. This year Congress will probably extend the credits through FY2016.