July 1999 News Letter
Just to let everyone know, our top priority is working on the backlog of individual claims. This has been identified as the number one concern of all the bureaus that we service. BLM, FWS and NPS are providing additional assistance to get the claims reviewed and decision letters issued.
We are being very careful throughout this process, as each claim must be evaluated on its own merits. At the time of the review, if there is insufficient information, a letter requesting more information will be prepared. That will be the claimant's last chance to submit documentation before a DOI decision letter is issued. We provide copies of the criteria that are used to determine eligibility for coverage. After reviewing that information, the claimant may decide that they would like to add documentation to their claim prior to the team review. They must do so by the reply due date shown on the letter.
Due dates are very important. If a claimant feels they need more time, they must request an extension in writing.
Because of the backlog of individual claims taking priority, the August training scheduled for Texas has been canceled. Some of the other fall training may also be canceled. Watch our training calendar on our web site for up-to-date information.
NEW TRAINING BOOK
We appreciate the comments and classroom evaluations on our training. As a result, we are making some significant changes to the training book. We plan to have it finished this fall. The new training book will be used in the upcoming training. We will let you know when it will be available.
It is the employee's responsibility to keep track of their personnel records. An individual should read, understand, and keep copies of what is in their personnel file.
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT CORNER
At the present time, BLM has approximately 470 individual claims pending. We are working on these claims in date of birth order so that individuals over 50 who may be considering retirement will know if they have enough covered and creditable service time to retire.
BLM has several employees under the CSRS retirement system that have spent their careers in non-traditional fire roles. We are in the process of putting together a checklist for these claims. We may need additional information to make our process go faster, so that we don't have to keep asking the employee for additional information. If you have a pending claim, please send us copies of your SF-50's since you filed your claim. By doing this, we won't have to contact your personnel office which also takes more time to process the claim.
We have received and approved 17 new position descriptions since January of this year. We have received an additional 30 positions descriptions that are pending and require additional information. We have completed five individual claims and an additional fourteen case files where the individual has position coverage.
In addition to the above, we completed four in -service law enforcement sessions in March and April. Two training sessions were held in Albuquerque in February; one in Washington, D.C., one in Boston in March; two in Fairbanks, AK in April; and one in Yellowstone and one in Grand Teton in May. There are no training sessions scheduled for June and July. BLM will sponsor two training sessions in Reno in September.
We continue to answer about 15 to 20 phone calls a day and talk to employees who are traveling through the fire center and have questions.
FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE CORNER
Well, here it is already June. It seems as though the first part of 1999 has gone so quickly. I guess time flies when you enjoy what you do. I spent 1998 traveling around the country providing 12 briefings and/or training sessions. As of several weeks ago, I have already provided 13 briefings and/or training sessions. Also, since December 1998, I have processed over 75 position descriptions and received an additional 224 individual claims. I am now up to 609 individual claims. Following is a breakdown of individual claim status as of May 1, 1999:
Individual Claim Report
|Category||Individual Claims Completed/
|Individual Claims for Team Leader Review or Pending Specialist Review||Individual Claims Pending DOI Review||Individual Claims Received|
|Refuge Law Enforcement Officer||
This has been a quick review of the status of FWS individual claims. I am trying to get as many Refuge Law Enforcement (GS-1802) and Police Officer (GS-0083) claims done as soon as possible. If you receive a letter from this office asking for more information and it gives you 35 days to reply, please respond as quickly as you can, so I can get your claim completed as soon as possible. I appreciate your cooperation on this matter.
Many Special Agents are now getting their claims into this office. I have reviewed about 30-35. So far, all claims include positions prior to 1983-1984, which were never submitted for a formal coverage determination. This is being rectified by submitting an individual claim package. Special Agents, who are concerned about getting their coverage officially documented, must send SF-50s for ALL of their Federal service so our office can track their Federal career. As a special note, I have also found a couple of agents that have some of their recent positions descriptions that are not covered. It may not matter to some individuals, but if one is retiring or has already retired and the Office of Personnel Management audits their Official Personnel Folder and these errors are discovered, then OPM would require the Servicing Personnel Office to get certification for those non-covered positions. Getting coverage/certification could take several months. This has already occurred within the FWS. Therefore, I urge the Special Agents to be aware of this issue and make sure they have ALL certification letters for their positions.
Our office has officially switched to Lotus Notes. Thus, my new email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I'm in the office, I am always available for questions. So please don't hesitate to call (208/387-5348) or email (email@example.com) my office.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CORNER
1. New E-Mail Address: The FLERT office is in the process of changing to LotusNotes and I have a new E-Mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org My old GroupWise address WILL NOT work after May 21, 1999. PLEASE CHANGE YOUR RECORDS ACCORDINGLY. All FLERT members have a new e-mail address of: email@example.com
2. Letters to Individuals With Pending Claims: We are in the process of sending a letter to all individuals with "Pending Claims" (approximately 850 letters) to request current information on their address, employment status, and any position changes since they filed their claim. We have been very successful in sending these letters to the individual's e-mail address. Since the majority of these claims were submitted over four years ago, we may not have the current address of many of these claimants. In addition, since claimants may have changed jobs since they filed their claim, we are requesting all claimants send us 1) a copy of their most recent SF-50 or if they are not currently working for NPS, the SF-50 that documents the date they left the National Park Service; 2) their current mailing address; and 3) a signed statement (attached to the letter) that you have not received a decision letter or if you have received a decision letter, we need a copy of that letter. Claimants should contact their personnel offices to get SF-50s and other documents from their Official Personnel Folders (OPFs).
In addition, we need everyone's help in locating these claimants. We have already sent out approximately 400 letters electronically. Our goal is to get letters sent to all the 850 pending claimants by the end of July. If you know OF SOMEONE THAT HAS A PENDING CLAIM BUT has not received a letter from us by the end of July, (e.g., employee who has transferred to another bureau/agency, retiree, etc.), please have them fax (208-387-5043), or mail their current address and most recent SF-50 to us so we can send them this letter. Our address is: Firefighter & Law Enforcement Officer Retirement Team (FLERT), BLM-NIFC (FA-104), 3833 South Development Avenue, Boise, ID 83705-5354.
We are working on the NPS claims in date of receipt order and then date of birth order. We have approximately 50 claims that were received between 1989 and 1994; about 450 claims received in 1995; and about 330 received in 1996 and after. As we review a claim, if we do not have sufficient information to issue a final letter, we will send the claimant a letter identifying the periods of service lacking necessary documentation, and then go on to the next claim. Therefore, it will be to the claimants benefit to assure that we have the supporting documentation before we pull their file for review. The letter will provide information on what the claim packages should include and we suggest claimants review this information and assure that they have submitted all the necessary documentation. One of the most common problems we run into when reviewing claims are SF-50's (Notification of Personnel Actions) are unreadable or missing.
3. List of Claimants - We have a list of all the claims that we are working on, or were completed in the last two years. The list is filed in a ccmail box that individuals can obtain by sending a ccmail message to: Fire Administration and put in Subject: word6c. The list will be sent to their ccmail/e-mail in box. Individuals can review the list to see if their name is there, to verify that we have their claim. There are two lists, one of pending claims and one of completed claims. We update this list approximately every two months, adding names to the pending list, indicating which claims we have requested additional information, and moving names to the completed list-the current list is as of March.
4. Position Descriptions (PDS): We have been receiving lots and lots of position descriptions (PDs) submitted for coverage by personnel offices-GOOD JOB! PDs must be submitted for coverage prior to filling. Personnel Offices if you have a newly classified firefighter or law enforcement officer PD, FAX it to me and then call me (208-387-5044) and we can discuss the proposed coverage. In most cases you can be recruiting at the same time I'm working on the PD coverage, so the PD will be covered BEFORE it is filled. Vacancy announcements for covered PDs must contain accurate information on special requirements such as the maximum entry age for permanent and term appointments for primary positions. Coverage of PDs prior to filling eliminates the uncertainty of the selectee as they will know before they accept the position, whether the position is covered under the special retirement program (6c); and it eliminates the need for individuals to file a claim for their service, if they are in PDs that are already covered. Approximately 20 PDs are submitted by management through the personnel office every month. We currently have approximately 1,550 covered PDs, and 99 PDs submitted for a determination, 50 of which have been reviewed and we are waiting for the additional information that we have requested. A list of most of the PDs in our office is located in the National Park Service Section of our home page at: http://fire/blm/gov/retire
5. Detail Opportunity - We have issued a detail opportunity notice to all Servicing Personnel Offices to solicit interest and availability of Personnelist to come to Boise to help us with the individual claims during the next several months. It's not too late to participate-Personnelists if you're available in July, August, or September for a 2 week detail, please call or e-mail me.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS CORNER
PL 93-638 and FF/LEO RETIREMENT
To be eligible to retire under DOI Firefighter/Law Enforcement Retirement you need to have 20 years covered federal fire and/or law enforcement service AND pay the employee's portion of the 1/2% retirement deduction through federal retirement system.
If you are a PL 93-638 direct hire from a BIA fire or law enforcement position to a tribal fire/law enforcement position, you may be eligible for federal firefighter/law enforcement retirement. If the Tribe offered you, and you elected, retirement benefits through the federal retirement system you may be eligible for retirement coverage. In this case, the Tribe pays the employer's share of the retirement contribution and elects to cover your tribal position for firefighter/law enforcement retirement. This allows you to continue to pay the employee's 1/2% deduction for special retirement.
If a Tribe wants to get a tribal position covered for FF/LEO special retirement, they can contact me and we will start the position coverage process similar to covering a BIA position. Precedent has been established for DOI approving retirement coverage for a tribal position where the tribal employee was a PL 93-638 direct hire from BIA. If you are in a tribal position, but not a PL 93-638 direct hire from a BIA law enforcement or fire position, and have not held a federal law enforcement or firefighting position in the past, you are not eligible for FF/LEO special retirement.
All District I, II, III and IV Police Officer position descriptions for the Office of Law Enforcement Services (OLES) have been approved for DOI law enforcement retirement position coverage. District V Police Officer positions should be approved by August 1999. Position retirement coverage is retroactive to the date the position is classified. The new Police Officer positions were classified 12/10/98.
When DOI approves law enforcement positions for retirement coverage, I send copies to the Albuquerque Area Personnel Office. Albuquerque Office staff are responsible for putting approved copies of the stamped front page of the position description (OF-8) and approval letters in employees' Official Personnel Folders (OPF) in the Albuquerque Area Personnel Office. Each Police Officer in every District should be receiving an employee copy of the stamped OF-8 with DOI approval notes and a copy of the DOI approval letter for their position. Employee copies are being sent from the Albuquerque Area Office. If you are in District I, II, III or IV and have not received position approval copies for your position, contact your supervisor.
In 1999, the Area Personnel Offices have been very busy sending in positions for FF/LEO retirement coverage. Since January I have received 281 position coverage requests. Of the 281 positions received, 221 positions have been approved and have 60 positions pending review.
Since January 1, 1999 I have received 34 new FF/LEO claims for individual coverage. The 1999 claims are in addition to the 29 individual claims from 1998. This year two claims have been approved. As I shift from position claims and the OLES reorganization, individual claim approval is my top priority for the rest of 1999.
While I have been working on position and individual coverage claims, I have also participated in a law enforcement in-service session and attended the annual Officer's Memorial at the Indian Police Academy; made an assistance visit to the Albuquerque Area Personnel Office; provided information sessions at three Area Fire Management Officer workshops and at the BIA National Fire Danger Rating System training at NIFC.
My e-mail address has changed as NIFC has switched to Lotus Notes. My new e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our 2000 training schedule is open and taking reservations for on-site visits for law enforcement/fire retirement training and information sessions. February and March 2000 are already booked. If you want to request a training at your Area or Agency site, please e-mail or call me (208/387-5045) to lock in your training/information session. Stop by our FLERT homepage at: http://fire.blm.gov/retire.
Q. How do I get the maximum benefits from FERS special retirement?
A. The answer is not as simple as it may sound. FERS retirement is based on a three-tier system -- FERS retirement benefit, Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). For a FERS employee to gain a maximum benefit from their retirement plan, he/she should contribute as much as possible to Thrift Savings. Many factors weigh into calculating the FERS benefit. If a FERS firefighter or law enforcement officer retires at age 50 with 20 years of covered/creditable service or at any age with 25 years of covered/creditable service then he/she should keep several things in mind:
1) the FERS benefits will be based on high-three salary times 1.7% times 20 years of covered/creditable service and 1% times their high-three times the remaining number of years of service (20 years equals 34% of high-three average salary);
2) the Social Security full benefit will not take effect until ...(it depends when you were born age 65 or 67)... and
3) a full thrift savings benefit cannot be received until age 59½. If a FERS employee retires before age 59 ½ one must either withdraw their contribution and roll it over into another retirement account (or if they don't roll over the money there will be a stiff tax penalty) or purchase a TSP annuity benefit from their thrift savings plan. You also have the option of leaving your money in your TSP account.
Another factor to weigh into the FERS retirement equation is that temporary service before 1/1/1989 cannot be counted toward FERS retirement unless a deposit is made. This has been previously discussed. No service credit for retirement purposes is allowed for service for which retirement contributions are refunded.
Therefore we highly recommend that ALL FERS employees monitor and evaluate their retirement contributions as closely as possible and attend a pre-retirement training session. Also, if you aren't contributing the maximum 10% to the thrift savings plan, one should reevaluate their income and we highly recommend that employees contribute the maximum 10% because TSP is your retirement benefit.
Q. If I am found to be in the wrong retirement system, how would that affect special retirement? (I already have special retirement coverage approval)
A. If your retirement system is changed, your coverage must be redetermined under the rules of the corrected retirement system.
This is distributed to the Human Resource Offices, State/Region Fire Management Offices and State/Region Law Enforcement Officers within BLM, NPS, FWS, OAS, BIA, BOR, and IG's office. We would like to reach as many Personnel Offices and employees as possible. If you read this, please pass it onto another interested employee. This Information Bulletin is intended for all Bureaus and Offices who have firefighters and law enforcement officers. As our mailing list grows, we rely more on electronic distribution. We urge people that have access to the Internet to get a copy from our home page shown below.
Marcia L. Scifres, (Team Leader - All other DOI)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5345
Donna Burch (BLM Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5959
Michael Gillmore, (FWS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5348
Marilee Pospahala (NPS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5044
Matt Wagers (BIA Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5045
1/2% EXTRA is published by:
Firefighter and Law Enforcement
Retirement Team (FLERT)
National Interagency Fire Center
3833 S. Development Avenue
Boise, Idaho 83705-5354
If you have any questions or comments about FF/LEO Special Retirement, the Information Bulletin, or other issues, please don't hesitate to call Marcia Scifres at 208/387-5345 or Donna Burch at 208/387-5959.