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U.S. Department of the Interior - News
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March 1998 Newsletters



1/2% EXTRA

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

FIREFIGHTER AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

RETIREMENT TEAM (FLERT)

INFORMATION BULLETIN



CHANGES

There have been a lot of changes to our Firefighter and Law Enforcement Retirement program. In the last Information Bulletin we told you about our new team, the Firefighter and Law Enforcement Retirement Team (FLERT). In this issue, the new folks are giving you a brief biography on themselves.

We really are excited about working with all the bureaus in DOI that have employees in the special retirement system. It is certainly giving us some new challenges. Trying to pull together the different files and programs from all the bureaus is tricky. But, it's coming along, and we think you will be very pleased with the results. Of course, right now most of the employees are still concerned about the delays in coverage decisions. Things are just starting to move along, and we really appreciate your patience.


OUR OWN HOMEPAGE!

Thanks to Donna Burch (my team), Chris Garvin and Andrea Olson (FWS), we now have our very own homepage. The address: "http://fire.blm.gov" will take you to the wonderful world of Firefighter and Law Enforcement Retirement. It's nothing fancy - no glitzy graphics. But it does give you a list of all the documents that we have relating to the special retirement program, except our training manual (available upon request). We urge you to take advantage of the information provided at this site, and let others know that it is available.

If you have any comments regarding our homepage, please share them with Donna Burch.


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 60 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. Nominations should be given to Donna Burch.

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 listed below).

HOW TO SUBMIT A CLAIM FOR FF/LEO SPECIAL RETIREMENT

Even though there was a 1989 deadline established by the Office of Personnel Management for filing claims for FF/LEO Special Retirement, there are extenuating circumstances that will allow some individuals to submit a late claim. Following are the items that must be submitted with a claim for special retirement:

(a) Claim letter stating what periods of service you want to claim. Within the claim letter one must state why the claim is late (e.g., CSRS deadline was October 1989 for all prior service (5 CFR 831.906(2) (e)). After this date, CSRS must file a claim within one year upon entering non-coverage and FERS deadline is 6 months from appointment into a non-covered position (5 CFR 842.804 (c));

(b) A copy of an SF171, application for employment, or resume' showing the periods of service claiming;

(c) Position descriptions for period claiming coverage. The position descriptions must contain the percentage of duties performed. The percentages must be affirmed by the supervisor at the time of encumbering the position . Also, an organization chart and a function statement must be included with the positions claimed;

(d) Copies of the official personnel actions for all federal service. We track an employee's entire federal service;

(e) Affidavits supporting the claimed positions and physical standards that one must meet for the position (if applicable); and

(f) Other supporting documentation (e.g., training records, fire time sheets, list of citations issues, list of fire assignments, etc...). Claims can be submitted to this office: USDI, BLM-NIFC, FF/LEO Retirement Team (FA-104), 3833 South Development Avenue, Boise, ID 83705-5354. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call a team member (telephone numbers are at the end of the bulletin).


TO SWITCH OR NOT TO SWITCH - CSRS EMPLOYEES!!

Recently, in the March 1998 issue of RETIREMENT LIFE (by National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) a brief discussion was provided as to the pros and cons of switching from CSRS to FERS (July 1 to October 31, 1998). The article was very informative and discussed some areas that are worth thinking about (e.g., Thrift Savings Annuities, Social Security Benefits, COLAs, etc...). Review the suggested information before making the decision as to whether to switch or not to switch. The article pointed out that there is no rule of thumb for providing advice to an individual. Each individual case is different. What sounds good for one person may not be the same case for another person making a decision to switch. Research the issue and make a well-informed decision that fits your own financial or economic situation. The article provided several good places on the Internet to find more information on this issue. Following are those sites:



Agency web site Information Provided

Soc. Sec. Adm www.ssa.gov Benefit estimates can be requested.

Govt Ret Ben www.grbinc.com Benefits computation (GRB) software

FEDweek

newsletter www.fedweek.com Benefits

information for the switch

OPM www.opm.gov/

asd/htm/pub.htm Publication number RI 90-3 = a 72 page FERS transfer Handbook


BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT CORNER

APPROVED POSITIONS

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.

If Servicing Personnel Officers would like a copy of the above approval sheets, please contact Marcia Scifres at 208/387-5345 or Donna Burch at 208/387-5959.


INTRODUCTION

Hi! I'm Donna Burch and I took Michael Gillmore's position (very tough shoes to fill) as the assistant in Special Retirement working with BLM employees.

I have been with the Bureau for 10 years - all of it here at NIFC. I spent 15 years working with the Veterans Administration as a Veterans Benefits Counselor, 2 years at OAS as a Voucher Examiner and approximately 5 years in Personnel. I am looking forward to working with Personnel offices and individuals on special retirement coverage. If I can be of assistance just give me a call. I am happy to be here and looking forward to talking with you.


FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE CORNER

To all of the Fish and Wildlife Employees I send you greetings. My name is Michael Gillmore and in November 1997 I was reassigned to maintain, work-on, organize, and develop the Bureau's Firefighter and Law Enforcement Officers (FF/LEO) Special Retirement Program. A little about myself, first. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in biological sciences, a Master's degree in Urban Planning with an emphasis in environmental management and a Master's degree in Political Science with an emphasis in public administration and public law. For the last 4-5 years I have worked on a PhD in Fire Management and Policy. I have taught college courses in Computer Research in Political Science, Judicial Process, Constitutional Law and Introduction to American Government. I have 15 years federal service with the Navy, National Park Service, Forest Service, Federal Highway Administration, Agricultural Research Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I have held positions as: an Aviation Storekeeper, maintenance worker, motor vehicle operator, engineering aid, environmental protection assistant, biological technician (aquatic), a biological technician (plants), park ranger, editor, and program assistant. Currently, I am a Program Analyst for the Bureau of Land Management. I also have held, or am qualified for, various firefighter positions (e.g., Type II firefighter, logistics chief, supply unit leader, ordering manager, receiving and distribution manager, documentation unit leader, and staging area manager).



I have been with the BLM since 1991. I have held positions in Las Cruces, NM and now in Boise, ID. I have been working on the FF/LEO Special Retirement Program since December 1993. Until recently, the BLM Special Retirement Program was in disarray. It has taken Marcia Scifres and myself 4-5 years to straighten the program out and gain some credibility from the Department of the Interior (DOI), as well as the Office of Personnel Management.



Within the last six months, our office has been delegated oversight of seven DOI bureaus (BLM, FWS, NPS, BIA, OAS, BOR and IG) for the FF/LEO Special Retirement programs. The team is made up four specialists and one assistant. In November 1997 I was reassigned to work on the FWS program. This position is a full-time job - it is not a collateral duty position. I will be devoting my time to FWS claims. I am funded by the FWS. It has taken four years to organize and maintain the BLM program, therefore, it will take some time to do the same for the FWS program. In other words, PATIENCE is the best advice I can give claimants at this point in the claim process.



Now, what is my objective for this program. Currently, I have received well more than a hundred claims. I received about one hundred claims from the Washington Office (FWS). I then entered those claims into our computer system (we track all federal service for claimants). Next, I ran a listing of the individuals, retirement system, and date of birth. I then prioritized the list by: (1) CSRS age 50 and older, (2) CSRS age 50 and younger, and (3) FERS. I am in the process of reviewing and submitting positions for the first group (CSRS over age 50 - these individuals are most likely to near retirement). My job is to organize and recommend or not recommend coverage for an individual or position package. DOI will ultimately make the final determination of whether an individual receives coverage or not. Once a claim is initiated, it will continue until there is a decision rendered. If you submit a claim, the processing will continue until a final determination is made by DOI.



Thus, far, I have discovered a variety of different situations among claimants. No two cases have been the same. Therefore, recommendations will be on a case-by-case basis for each claimant. Claims are still being accepted, but certain materials are required within the claim package. See the article entitled "How to Submit a claim for FF/LEO Special Retirement."


BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS CORNER

INTRODUCING . . . .



My name is Matt Wagers and I would like to introduce myself as the new BIA contact for firefighter/law enforcement employees and their servicing personnel staff. I'm here to streamline the approval process for position coverage and individual claims and am available to consult during the process. I joined the Special Retirement Team December 1997 and previously have worked initial attack for U.S.F.S. and as a park ranger, personnel specialist and environmental compliance specialist for N.P.S.



Soon I will be contacting BIA employees who have pending special retirement cases in our office. I am also looking high and low for documentation of approved BIA fire and law enforcement positions. If your office has such a list please call me at the number below. I am also available upon request to conduct special retirement training for groups of ten or more. Give me a call and introduce yourself.


NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CORNER



Hi, I'm Marilee Pospahala, the NPS Representative on this new TEAM. I have worked with some of you in my former NPS position as a Personnel Management Specialist with the Colorado Plateau/Intermountain Support Office-Denver and through my work for the NPS Fire Program Center here in Boise. (Speaking of Denver-how about those DENVER BRONCOS!)



The approximately 1,000 claims shipped to our office in the 80 or so boxes, have been received from the Washington Office! We have prepared an alphabetical list of these claims which you can review to find out if we have your file. This 35 page list has been sent to a member of the Ranger Activities Council (RAC). This group has offered to help us distribute information about the special retirement program. They are in the process of determining the best way of informing current employees about the status of their claim, so keep an eye on the NPS Ranger Activities Morning report. If your claim is still pending and you have changed jobs since you filed your claim, please send us your:

- new address;

- employing organization and servicing personnel office phone number, and -

a copy of your latest SF-50 (notification of personnel action).



You can send an Internet e-mail message to mpospaha@nifc.blm.gov; send via a fax (208-387-5043); or send via mail to: NPS Representative, Special Retirement Team (FA-104), National Interagency Fire Center, 3833 South Development Avenue, Boise, ID 83705-5354.



Obviously with this many claims we must prioritize our workload. NPS has asked us to establish as our first priority, the administrative claims of current CSRS employees, and prioritizing those in date of birth order. We are going through these files. Those cases that have sufficient supporting documentation are being processed immediately. Those files that are lacking information are put in a separate pile and we will be requesting additional information. Obviously, if we don't have the necessary documentation, those cases will be delayed! Based on our review of files to date, the most common problem is not having all the SF-50s or not being able to read the ones we have!



In addition, we are working on about 50 PDs that have been submitted by management through the servicing personnel office for position coverage determination. When we receive the PD files of previously covered PDs from the Washington Office, we will have a list available of all covered NPS PDs.

If you are performing firefighter (FF) or law enforcement (LE) duties and your PD has not been submitted, have your personnel office contact us and we will be glad to provide information and explain the process for management recommending position coverage. Every time management establishes or redescribes a FF or LE position, part of management's position management process is to determine if the new PD should be recommended for primary or secondary special retirement coverage. Eventually, as we get all the appropriate PDs covered BEFORE they are filled, we will eliminate the need for individual claims!



We have discovered many PDs that have a statement typed or stamped in the remarks section: "This position is covered (or proposed for coverage) by 5 USC 8336(c) and 8412(d) for firefighter or law enforcement retirement", WERE NEVER submitted for coverage to the appropriate approving official (i.e., OPM or Department of Interior), as required. That statement SHOULD NOT be put on the PD until after it has been approved and the approval form (signed by OPM, or the Department of the Interior, or a letter from the National Park Service) should be attached to all copies of the PD. So, even if your PD has this statement, there must be an approval form to support that statement. If you are performing firefighter or law enforcement duties, and don't know if your PD is covered, contact your servicing personnel office. PDs covered by this office are annotated with the coverage statement and sent with the approval form to the servicing personnel office via a transmittal letter.


Q&A CORNER

Q. Can I use both my firefighter and law enforcement duties for FF/LEO Special Retirement?



Answer: Yes, according to the Merit Systems Protection Board decision in Phillips v. Office of Personnel Management, 1994 (Docket No. DE-0831-94-0051-I-1). The Administrative Judge stated that "the relevant statute, 5 U.S.C. 8336(c)(1), provided that '[a]n employee who is separated from the service after becoming 50 years of age and completing 20 years of service as a law enforcement officer or firefighter, or any combination of such service totaling at least 20 years, is entitled to an annuity.' Giving the plain meaning to the latter phrase of 'any combination of such service,' I am persuaded that the words 'any combinations' in the statute envision not only service in one of the designated areas but also service in a combination of law enforcement officer and firefighter service simultaneously."

The administrative judge concluded by stating that "... I find that service in a position with a combination of firefighting and law enforcement duties is entitled to credit if the duties are the primary purpose of the position and are performed on a regular and recurring basis." The duties an individual may perform may not be included within the official position description. MSPB specifically noted that "the law is clear that eligibility for an enhanced annuity is controlled by the duties that the individual actually performed, not by the official position description." Such claims must be supported by affidavits.



Q. If I have some time in covered positions, can I quit and then later return to Fire and/or Law Enforcement?



It depends. If entering a primary position, you must again meet the maximum entry age requirement. An individual can enter a secondary position, but may not be entitled to special retirement coverage. We have received numerous questions regarding entitlement to special retirement versus qualifications for a job series. Make sure these two issues do not get confused when applying for a job. If you have questions, give us a call.


DISTRIBUTION

This newsletter 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.


KEY CONTACTS

Marcia L. Scifres, (Team Leader - BLM and all other DOI)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5345
mscifres@nifc.blm.gov

Michael Gillmore, (FWS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5348
mgillmor@nifc.blm.gov

Marilee Pospahala (NPS Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5044
mpospaha@nifc.blm.gov

Matthew Wagers, (BIA Claims)
FF/LEO Retirement Specialist, 208/387-5045
mwagers@nifc.blm.gov

Donna Burch, General Information
Program Assistant, 208/387-5959
d80burch@nifc.blm.gov

 

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

Editor:

Donna Burch
FF/LEO Retirement Assistant
208/387-5959
FAX 208/387-5043

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.