The Holman Rule is Back

One of the first expressions of GOP appetite to attack the jobs and salaries of federal employees who administer controversial enforcement and regulatory programs in the Executive Branch occurred last week. On the very first day of the new Congress, GOP House members adopted a procedural rules package that reinstated the Holman Rule, which will permit House members during floor debate on government funding bills to offer amendments that directly reduce specific jobs and salaries at particular agencies, down to as little as $1 a year.

The Holman Rule has not been used since the 1980’s, when it was set aside over internal Congressional squabbles. But the return of the Holman Rule signals a new aggressiveness by House conservatives to return power to rank-and-file members aiming to decrease federal spending and taxpayer costs to levels lower than those recommended by the established appropriations committees.

As a result, House lawmakers now will have the power to make surgical cuts into agency budgets, identifying particular jobs, and even their incumbents and salaries, to be cut. Fortunately, it appears that the Postal Service is relatively protected from the reach of the Holman Rule because of the relatively small amount of dollars (and in turn jobs) that Congress appropriates to the Postal Service, whose funding comes primarily from postage.  

Could Big Civil Service Changes Lie Ahead?

Sweeping changes (here and here) to civil service rules and employee compensation could come about under plans being prepared by President-elect Trump's transition team and the GOP-controlled Congress. Last November’s anti-Washington mandate has put a bulls-eye on the federal bureaucracy as part of efforts to “drain the swamp” and eliminate “government waste.”

Conservative think tank proposals, based on the questionable assumption that federal pay and benefits are overly generous, could now become the playbook for Congressional action. Unified GOP control of Congress and the White House will make enactment of some changes possible. Proposals blocked in the past by a Democratic President and the Senate could now become law.

Some changes could affect only federal civil servants, while others could reach to postal employees, particularly those involving retirement and health benefits and new postal hires. Congress will take aim at reducing the defined benefit portion of FERS and move newly-hired federal and postal employees to a defined contribution arrangement, consisting of Social Security and the Thrift Savings Plan. House chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has suggested the possibility of a higher TSP government match in return for elimination of the FERS defined benefit component. Reductions in the government's contribution toward health insurance premiums (now set at 72%) could also come into play.  

Some potential civil service changes could be helpful to civil service and postal managers, like the streamlining of rules to remove poor performers. Legislative proposals currently applicable only to the Veterans Administration personnel actions could be broadened to become governmentwide.

More Trouble Ahead: The PAGE Act

Also during the first week of the new Congress, some members wasted no time in readying measures that would reduce the size of the federal workforce and establish dramatic personnel reforms. Most notably, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) prepared to reintroduce legislation, the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act (“PAGE Act”, HR 6278 in the last Congress) that would, among other things, turn all new federal workers into “at-will” employees, permitting supervisors to fire them without due process rights or the opportunity to appeal. Such changes would not appear to apply to Postal Service new hires, but would have profound impact upon labor relations throughout the federal workplace. The Rokita bill also would end “official time” practices, which permit civil service union stewards to engage in union activity while receiving a federal salary.

Postal Reform: What's In Store?

Postal reform legislation failed to cross the finish line in the last Congress, and its prospects for passage in the 115thCongress remain mixed. As time ran out in December on the lame duck Congress, efforts by House and Senate negotiators to reach a deal on a comprehensive postal bill failed to resolve questions about Medicare integration and other issues. Discussions on the bill are expected to pick-up once again in the new Congress and possibly lead to final action sometime in March

Update: No exception for USPS in Trump hiring freeze order

NBC News has posted a copy of the Trump hiring freeze executive order. The order, as reported earlier, excludes only military personnel. The order is to apply “across the board in the executive branch”. The US Postal Service, by law, is defined as an “independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States”. (As we’ve noted before, the word “independent” simply means that the USPS is not part of a cabinet department).

The order specifically states that the freeze “applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding…” The order also warns that “Contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted”.

There is a loophole of sorts in the order- agency heads may exempt “positions that it [sic] deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities. In addition, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary”.

Internal Promotions, Postal Service and CIA Among Trump's Hiring Freeze Exemptions
The Postal Service notified UPMA in December 2016 of its intention to expand eligibility for smartphones to all EAS-18-and-above exempt Postmasters.
Posted by Frank Augustosky on 02/06/17

The Postal Service notified UPMA in December 2016 of its intention to expand eligibility for smartphones to all EAS-18-and-above exempt Postmasters. The notification cited that the reason for the expanded eligibility was to improve overall operational efficiency. Postmasters will have mobile access to real-time actionable information and mobile aware applications and not be dependent on a desktop computer or landline. The projected date of full deployment is Postal Quarter 4 of FY17.
Unfortunately, we have been made aware that some POOMs are instructing Postmasters that they must keep their postal smartphones with them outside of normal business hours and, when contacted, respond to phone calls and emails immediately, 24 hours a day. The deployment of smartphones to Postmasters has not changed existing postal policy, nor has it created policy that would require that Postmasters be “on call.”
There always have been service-related issues and emergencies, such as reports of employee accidents and security alarm notifications. Postmasters understand their responsibilities and have been responsive to these types of issues.
Personal use of your Postal Service-issued smartphone is outlined in Management Instruction (EL-660-2009-10). The policy limits personal use of your postal cell phone, provided such use does not:
Reduce or otherwise adversely affect the employee’s productivity during work hours.
Interfere with the mission or operations of the Postal Service.
Violate the Standard for Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5CFR 2635).
Be aware, you may use your postal-issued cell phone for limited personal use within these guidelines; you have neither a right nor any expectation of privacy. Use of the phone for Internet and email for personal reasons or purposes imply consent to the disclosure of the contents of any files or information maintained or passed through the phone and to monitoring and/or recording of such use, at any time, with or without cause. 
Postmasters are responsible keeping their postal-issued cell phones safe and protecting any sensitive and critical information stored on them.
Two senators on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to loosen the restrictions on how federal employees and retirees can withdraw money from the Thrift Savings Plan.

The TSP Modernization Act, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Tom Carper, D-Del., comes at the request of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which governs the 401(k)-style retirement savings program. The withdrawal rules have not been changed since the TSP was established in 1986 and are outdated, according to the board.

Under the current statute, federal employees who wish to make age-based withdrawals can only do so once while they are employed, and then they cannot make a partial withdrawal once they leave government. Those who have left government and haven’t made any age-based withdrawals can make one partial post-separation withdrawal, but then must move to full withdrawal options.

Portman and Carper’s bill would allow active federal employees to make multiple age-based withdrawals from their TSP accounts and remain eligible for partial withdrawals once they leave government as well. Those who have left government could make multiple partial post-separation withdrawals. The bill also would allow those receiving monthly payments to change the amount of their payment at any time—instead of only once per year--and they could change the frequency of payments as well.

In 2013, TSP participants who no longer worked for the federal government transferred $9 billion out of the TSP to other institutions. According to a TSP-conducted survey of those participants, 27 percent cited a desire for greater flexibility with payments and withdrawals.

“When these rules were written 30 years ago, most were thinking of the world as a defined benefit, a pension, and these kinds of rules make sense in a pension world,” said Kim Weaver, the TSP board’s director for external affairs. “But now, when we’re in a 401(k) combined contribution world, they just don’t work as well anymore.”

Portman and Carper said in a statement that updating the TSP rules surrounding account withdrawals will ensure the program remains viable in the years to come.

“The TSP has been instrumental in helping federal employees maximize their retirement security, and to mark the 30th anniversary of this critical savings vehicle this bill takes important steps to modernize this system to benefit them in the future,” Portman.

Greg Long, executive director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, said the bill will ensure federal employees can adequately manage their money and save for retirement.

“Enactment of this legislation will meaningfully improve TSP participants’ ability to responsibly access their retirement savings,” he said. 

Make a Difference Behind the Scenes at UPMA
Posted by Frank Augustosky on 02/01/18

Are you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by all the new demands at work? Ever wonder what is happening behind the scenes to combat the onslaught? How would you like to find out first hand? Why not become part of the UPMA leadership team of actively involved members working hard to protect and enhance the working lives of Postmasters and Managers?

Chapter conventions are coming soon throughout the nation, and at each one volunteers will be welcomed and deployed to help organize and conduct activities, including meetings, training sessions and more. Appointments to key positions will also be made within these chapters. And, finally, elections will be held at each convention to fill critical leadership positions.  

As a postal manager, you are already a leader. You also know from experience just how crucial UPMA’s ongoing efforts are to all of us. Please consider joining the ranks of our actively engaged leadership teams across the country. Get involved; help make a difference. Your knowledge, your ideas and your energy can help strengthen our organization and make the working lives of our members better.