June 1998 Newsletter
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
FIREFIGHTER AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
RETIREMENT TEAM (FLERT)
Some new information has come about for widows of Firefighter or Law Enforcement employees. In order to take advantage of the retirement provisions for FF/LEO an employee must be at least 50 years old and complete 20 years of federal law enforcement/firefighter experience. Previously, when an employee died, either in the line of duty or due to natural causes, before accumulating 20 years of Firefighter or Law Enforcement coverage, the surviving spouse would receive an annuity based on the ordinary civil service retirement rules.
This was challenged in Moore v Office of Personnel Management, May 7, 1997. The court reversed a prior decision and stated that the requirements of age and tenure do not bar the application of 5 USC 8339(d)(1) to the period of the petitioner's husband's service for purposes of calculating her survivor annuity. Her annuity was recalculated based on the Law Enforcement years of service and the regular rate for other years of service not covered by special retirement. (This decision was for a CSRS claimant).
STANDARD FORM 50'S
It is important that we continue to receive all SF-50's during an employee's career, and then the last one to show retirement. Please keep them coming.
If anyone transfers to FERS please furnish us a copy of the SF-50. If any FERS employees transfer to CSRS Offset, because of the 5 year rule, please send us a copy of their SF-50.
FF/LEO RETIREMENT TRAINING
The next scheduled training session is October 21-22, 1998, at NIFC in Boise, Idaho. The training starts at 8:30 am on October 21 and ends at 11:30 am on October 22. Currently, there are about 30 slots available. The course is for employees, supervisors and personnelists. Other bureaus and agencies are welcome to attend. There is no tuition fee for this training.
The course covers:
- - What is Firefighter and Law Enforcement Officer retirement?
- - Definitions of key elements of the retirement program: particularly the terms "primary, secondary, immediate transfer, position coverage and individual coverage."
- - Benefits of the special retirement - $$.
- - How position management affects retirement coverage, and how staffing and recruitment are affected by special retirement?
- - Submitting Position Descriptions for coverage.
- - How an individual makes a claim for coverage.
Copies of the training manual are always available upon request.
Also, the Fire and Law Enforcement Team (FLERT) is available to do "on-site" training sessions. So put your order in now, if you would like our team to provide training at your office. This training is recommended for FF/LEO managers, supervisors, and administrative personnel who provide information and guidance to employees on firefighting and law enforcement retirement. It is also recommended that firefighters and law enforcement officers attend. The class size is normally 15-30 individuals. Requests for training must be submitted in writing to: Marcia Scifres, NIFC - FA104, 3833 South Development Avenue, Boise, ID 83705-5354. For more information, please contact Marcia Scifres or Donna Burch (see numbers at end of bulletin).
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT CORNER
It is important when using the Standard Position Descriptions established by the Bureau that the position number not be changed, as this is how coverage is tracked. Please don't put your own OF-8 on the PD or make any other changes without submitting it to us for approval.
A list of approved BLM standardized position descriptions or an individual state listing is available to anyone wishing to receive a copy. If you would like to receive a copy of the available listings, contact this office.
Marcia Scifres and Donna Burch went to Salt Lake City the first week of May to conduct 2 training sessions, one for NPS and one for the Salt Lake City District Office. Thanks to Jeff Scott for coordinating this - it was a good session and we answered many questions and concerns for individuals. Thanks to those who made the long drive to attend. Thanks to Utah Personnel Office for furnishing information on attendees.
Donna Burch and Michael Gillmore went to Battle Mountain, NV to conduct a training session the middle of May. Thanks to Dave Ullrich for coordinating this one and people traveling from the various districts. Hopefully all questions were answered as we have received lots of information from the Nevada Personnel Office. Thanks!!!!
FISH & WILDLIFE CORNER
Well, since the last issue I have had the pleasure of visiting several (5) FWS field sites and providing information on the Special Retirement program. I have met a lot of concerned individuals. There were a lot of questions and I provided many answers but some I cannot, and will not, answer without an individual submitting a claim. I must be able to examine and review a person's entire career in order to make a recommendation for or against special retirement coverage. This is why it is imperative that I receive SF50s, affidavits, training records, fire or law enforcement experience records, SF171, and other pertinent supporting documentation to support a claim for firefighter and/or law enforcement special retirement coverage. Finally, there are still a lot of places I need to visit. However, time is of the essence, and I need to get caught up on reviewing and making recommendations on several claim files.
By the way, I have received well over 100 claims since January. This is in addition to the 80 claims I received from the Washington Office when I accepted this program. Just the other day, I completed a listing of CSRS claimants age 50 and over. I have about 43 of these claims. I have finished reviewing and forwarded about 12-14 of the 43 claims. Reviewing individual claims takes some time, but if all of the necessary documents are in the packet, the process goes faster.
A major issue that concerns me at this point is that of Special Agent positions. That is, I have reviewed about 3-4 Special Agent claims and all of them had been placed in Standard approved positions after 1983; however, service prior to 1983 had no documentation that their positions had been submitted for a coverage determination. This is scary. If there is no OPM nor DOI approval sheet, then the position is considered a non-covered position. The individual stands the chance of not being able to retire until the position is accredited/approved. This could take several weeks or months. I would sleep better at night, and I know the Special Agent would too, knowing that these individuals are in covered positions prior to 1983. If anyone has a Regional or Bureau-wide listing that might provide some information on this issue, please forward a copy to me. Thanks.
I would like to take this time to thank the many people who made it possible for me to visit the FWS field sites. Thanks to:
- Dennis Macomber - LEO inservice at Marana, AZ and FF/LEO training session at Portland, OR.
- Ken Chitwood and Ronnie Shell - LEO inservice at Tallahassee, FL.
- Tom Goettel - LEO inservice at Shephardtown, WV at (NCTC).
- Phil Street - Fire Managment meeting at Spearfish, SD.
- John Fort and Doug Scott - southern hospitality and tour of St. Marks NWR, FL.
- Todd Fenzl - tour of Deer Flat NWR, ID.
Also a special thanks to all of the Region Personnel Offices for responding to my requests for personnel information!
Well, I guess I should wrap up this article and get back to reviewing the onslaught of individual claims that are on my desk. Have a great summer and be careful out there. If any questions arise pertaining to special retirement, don't hesitate to call me. Remember please be patient, your claim will eventually get reviewed.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS CORNER
In BIA FF/LEO training sessions the last few months I met field and Area staff, personnelists and supervisors face to face. Many of you asked questions about the FF/LEO retirement program and the status of specific individual and position coverage claims. Firefighters and law enforcement officers alike have mentioned retirement claims have been sent for approval, but they have not received responses regarding coverage.
The FLERT office recently received dozens of boxes containing approved and pending FF/LEO retirement cases. If you have submitted a claim and have not received a response on your request for individual or position retirement coverage, please send me written information including your retirement system (CSRS or FERS), where you initially submitted the claim, when you submitted the claim and what retirement coverage (firefighter or law enforcement) was being claimed. I will cross reference the information provided with the claims in the boxes received to clarify your claim status. You can send information to me by e-mail at email@example.com. Or use my mail address on the last page of this bulletin.
Just wanted to thank the following Area and Central office staff for coordinating recent BIA retirement training/information sessions:
* John Philbin, Nate Shourds and Renney Blackwater, Phoenix Area Office for joint BIA/NPS training session;
* Woody Wright, Matthew Prior and Tom Woolworth, Indian Police Academy for Supervisory Criminal Investigator information session; and
* Danielle Dutt and Lisa Sandstrom, Portland Area Office, for combined BIA/FWS training session.
With summer upon us already, there are no scheduled BIA trainings in the near future. FLERT is available for trainings at Area and field offices upon written request after August 1. Have a safe summer and I look forward to hearing from you!
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CORNER
Since our last bulletin, there has been lots of activity on the NPS individual claims as well as the management submitted position descriptions. The entire FLERT team has been helping me work on the individual claims-here's a summary of what's been going on here during the last quarter:
- Administrative Claims (shipped from DC) 372
- FERS Claims (shipped from DC) 695
- Miscellaneous Claims (shipped from DC) 181
- New claims from individuals 25
TOTAL NPS CLAIMS 1273
Since the NPS established the Administrative Claims (NPS employees in covered positions that had not previously filed a claim) as our number one priority, here's the status of those 372 claims:
- completed as of 6/30/98 119
- reviewed, need more information 86
- reviewed, to be typed 32
- to be reviewed 135
All employees covered under the firefighter and law enforcement officer retirement system- whether your claim has been completed, or still pending-should send us copies of SF-50's when you change jobs, resign, retire, etc., so we can track your service. Along with your SF-50, please send your new mailing address, employing organization, and your servicing personnel office phone number. This can be sent via fax (208-387-5043) or to me at our mailing address identified at the end of this bulletin. I am no longer on the NPS ccmail system, but you can send me a message through Internet e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THANKS TO ALL THE NPS PERSONNEL OFFICES - When we call and request additional information, they drop what they're doing to get us the information we need to complete these cases!
After your claim is approved, we send you the original approval letter signed by the Secretary of Interior's Designee and a copy to your servicing personnel office. That's when the hard work begins! Your personnel office must correct your personnel actions to place you in the special retirement code and correct your pay, if applicable. Many of these corrections go back 20 or 30 years and take many hours to complete! Then personnel sends the paperwork to payroll where they correct your master record, do calculations, and send it on to AOC who then sends you a bill for your additional retirement contributions, minus any back pay, or a check for back pay, if applicable.
The personnel offices have been sending in management submitted position descriptions for coverage prior to filling the position - KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! I have approximately 77 position descriptions to review for coverage, many of which were submitted to the NPS Washington office but never reviewed. Managers and Supervisors - whenever you rewrite or establish a new position description that contains firefighting or law enforcement duties, you should discuss with the classifier whether this position description should be recommended for either primary or secondary coverage. If we address this position management issue before we fill the position, we will eliminate the need for individuals to submit claims for their past service. Please contact me and I will provide more information!
In June we presented our FF/LE Retirement Training course to Personnelists and Chief Rangers from the Southeast Region at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in March, an abbreviated training session at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to primarily FWS, NPS and Forest Service firefighters. We are also planning on conducting this training at Dinosaur National Monument, and the Midwest and Intermountain Regional Offices in the fall. See page 1 for information on how you can host this training course at your park/region!
1. I am a FERS employee that had temporary service prior to 1989. I know I can pay a deposit to FERS to receive retirement credit for this time, but some people tell me that I'm better off to just invest the money myself. What difference does it make?
A. The bottom line is that if you don't pay into the retirement system for the time, you don't receive any credit for that time for retirement eligibility or annuity computation. It's as if the time never existed! If you decide to invest the money and pay later, that's your decision. But if you invest poorly, or don't get around to investing at all, it will cost you dearly for that time later on. The interest is a variable interest rate, changing yearly. It adds up really fast, just ask someone that waited a few years before they decided to pay it off.
Why pay for the time at all? It may mean that you can retire a little sooner, or get your 20 years firefighter or law enforcement time in a little sooner. It also affects your lifetime annuity benefit (which receives a cost of living increase each year), as well as a spousal benefit, if elected.
This decision needs some good planning at the "beginning" of your career in order for you to get the best value on your money. We really encourage new employees to ask questions and learn more about their future retirement benefits. Also, we here on the counseling side have lots of sad stories we can relate. We know folks who just didn't want to part with their money early in their career. The closer they got to retirement, the more important it became to have all possible service credited, and to have as few reductions to their annuity as possible.
To buy your temporary time, it will cost you 1.3% of your base salary for the time you worked as a temporary (you do not count overtime). As you know, you cannot buy any temporary service time after 12-31-88. This will give you credit towards your retirement, 1.7% for each year of service. Normally, people do not invest what they owe and if they have access to it, will at some point and time spend it. When it comes time to retire, they will see the difference a year or two makes, and the interest that has accumulated on the temporary service time over the years will be far more than what the original debt was.
This wasn't asked, but just want to mention that should you ever leave the Federal Government, leave your retirement contributions in as once you receive a refund you cannot buy that service back.
2. Law Enforcement retirement coverage increases the cost to the government on each covered employee. Can a manager "waive" the coverage of their subordinate positions?
A. No! This is not an "elective" benefit. Also, special retirement coverage cannot be avoided by writing a "non-covered" position description, but requiring the employee to perform work which meets the definitions for special retirement in the regulations. We have numerous court decisions, (Phillips v OPM (1994), Nuss v OPM (1992), Felzien v OPM (1991), Cole v OPM (1985), Little v OPM (1985) and Ellis v OPM (1979)), where the courts told us to look beyond the position description, at any official documentation describing duties actually performed.
This is distributed to Personnel Office's, 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 Bureau's and Office's 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.
Marcia L. Scifres, (Team Leader - BLM and all other DOI)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5345
Michael Gillmore, (FWS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5348
Marilee Pospahala (NPS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5044
Matthew Wagers, (BIA Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5045
Donna Burch, General Information
Program Assistant, 208/387-5959
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
FF/LEO Retirement Assistant
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.