March 1999 News Letter
RETIREMENT COSTS INCREASE
An across-the-board increase in retirement contributions went into effect the first pay period beginning on or after January 1, 1999. The rate of withholding for all CSRS and FERS covered employees will increase in 3 steps. The first increase is .25% this year. In January 2000 it will go up another .15%, and in 2001 will go to .10%, for a total of .5%. This increase applies to both regular retirement and the special firefighter and law enforcement retirement.
The increase also affects the "cost-to-government". That increase went into effect October 1997 for the full .5% increase (more for FERS employees). These new contribution rates are a result of "The Balanced Budget Act of 1997". This is supposed to be a temporary increase, and is scheduled to return to normal rates January 2003. For more information, refer to the CSRS and FERS Handbook in the servicing personnel offices.
FF/LEO RETIREMENT TRAINING
If you haven't checked out our website at fire.blm.gov/retire, please take a look at our new training information. This gives you all the information on when and where training will be held. With our once-a-month training sessions and in-service requests, we are staying very busy.
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT CORNER
NEW EMPLOYEES - REMINDER
As you place new employees in covered firefighter or law enforcement positions, please send copies of the SF-50's, Notification of Personnel Actions, to this office. We need to enter the new employees in our data base system so their coverage will be tracked. It is also important that you let us know when employees in the special retirement system retire
or leave a covered position because we need to take them out of the system.
MAXIMUM ENTRY AGE POLICY
On February 10, 1999, the Office of Fire and Aviation issued guidance on Maximum Entry Age for Firefighter and Airplane Pilots in Firefighter Positions, under Instruction Memorandum No. OF&A 99-005. When filling positions subject to retirement provisions which have 'primary/rigorous' coverage, personnel and selecting officials must apply the Maximum Entry Age requirements. This guidance provides a reminder of current Maximum Entry Age requirements and established an exception for certain Airplane Pilot positions.It eliminates the option of requesting a waiver to Maximum Entry Age.
If you did not receive a copy of this IM please contact Donna Burch.
OnFebruary22, 1999Instruction Memorandum 99-073 was issued regarding Maximum Entry Age for Law Enforcement Officers. Again, when filling positions which have 'primary/rigorous' coverage under the Law Enforcement Retirement program, personnel and selecting officials must apply the Maximum Entry Age requirements.Thismemowasissued as a reminder of current Maximum Entry Age requirements and eliminates the availability of requesting a 'waiver'.
FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE CORNER
Spring at last, spring at last, thank goodness it's spring at last. It's a time for new growth and development. However, as I am writing this article I am flying high above the ground and cannot see the new spring growth. I am on my way to Washington, DC for a briefing. By the time you read this I will have briefed the Assistant Director for Refuges and Wildlife about the claim review process and its status. I now have over 600 claims. The review process is going slow as I have been traveling a lot this year providing informational sessions to both Firefighters and Law Enforcement Officers. I will be getting back to reviewing claim files in April. I feel at times that we have awakened a sleeping giant but I guess that goes with the work. However, this task is something that for some time has needed some attention, but was assumed to be a closed book. If nothing more, the awareness of the special retirement program and its regulatory demands and responsibilities has now been provided to many FWS employees, supervisors and managers. One goal of mine has always been to provide educational information to as many FWS employees as possible. This goal will finally be accomplished by the end of this year (1999).
I now have an assistant to help with the significant backlog of claims. Her name is Lydia "Toni" Koehler. She is a Boise State University undergraduate student majoring in political science. She has an excellent background in policy, regulation, and law. I am going to rely on her skills for many assignments. She will eventually be answering the telephone once in awhile, when I am out of the office, so treat her kindly.
Another issue that I keep expressing whether on the telephone, in the classroom, or personal conversations, is that we are working through these claims as quickly as possible, so please be patient. We will get your claim reviewed and completed as soon as possible. Excellence takes time to create and we want an excellent claim package to leave this office for DOI to review. Each claim package must be able to stand on its own merits, with full documentary support. These claim files are subject to audit, so we make sure everything is correct before issuing a coverage decision.
As noted, I had a meeting with Dan Ashe, Paul Schmidt, Jon Andrew, Rebekah Wietz, Laurie Brooks and Region 3 folks (conference call). I would like to THANK these individuals for a very productive meeting. We discussed the Special Retirement Program and its ramifications as well as the programmatic effect on FWS. I came away from the meeting with a positive feeling that FWS has a better understanding of the Special Retirement Program. Again I would like to thank those individuals in the meeting and feel we can resolve this issue and move on to other issues dealing with special retirement.
I would also like to thank Roger Erb for inviting me to the National Fire Management Officers meeting in Las Vegas, NV. By attending these meetings, it helps me better understand what is going on within the FWS. A special thanks goes out to Richard Birger for giving me a tour of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge while I was in the Las Vegas area. Again I was able to observe what duties Refuge Officers and Firefighters are performing on the refuge. We even saw several bighorn sheep. Thanks again Rich! Further, I would like to THANK Region 6 FMOs and especially Phil Street and Hallie Locklear for inviting me to the Region 6 FMO meeting. I learned a lot from that group. Also, I would like to bid a fond farewell to Carl Douhan. He is living proof that the Special Retirement system actually works. He retired on March 31, 1999. Good luck and best wishes Carl. It was great working with you.
Lastly, I want to remind everyone that I am always available for questions. So please don't hesitate to call (208/387-5348) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) my office. I want the correct information to be distributed.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CORNER
Heather Lonigro (e-mail address: email@example.com; telephone: 208-387-5046) was hired last July to help with the NPS program. She has organized our individual claim files and position description (PD) files, and is in the process of inputting these files into our new database. She helps with processing PD approvals and providing information to supervisors and personnelists. She's taken over responsibility for maintaining our home page, assisting with training coordination, and is now the editor of this Newsletter. She's doing a great job and is a big asset to our office. The new information that Heather has added to our home page includes: our training schedule; a list of NPS PDs that are already covered or have been submitted for coverage; and the NPS Supplement to our training handbook.
The NPS supplement provides information and forms on: position management; how to submit PDs for coverage; how to inform employees of claim procedures; and what to put in vacancy announcements when recruiting for primary and secondary positions.
During the months of January, February, and March, we have been working on standard fire and law enforcement PD coverage, conducting training sessions, working on individual position description (PD) coverage, and individual claims.
NEW NPS STANDARD PDS AND NUMBERING SYSTEM
On January 27, 1999, NPS issued 20 new Standard Fire Management Program PDs, 17 of which meet the definition of either primary or secondary firefighter positions*.
On February 16, 1999, NPS issued standard seasonal park ranger position descriptions at the GS-5 and GS-7 levels. They can be used for interpretation and law enforcement* seasonal/temporary park ranger positions.
*PLEASE NOTE: Temporary service after 1/1/89 is not creditable toward FERS retirement, regardless if the position description meets the definition of a covered position. Therefore, temporary service under these primary positions WILL NOT count toward retirement and CANNOT be used to subtract from an applicant's age to meet maximum entry age requirements for primary firefighter (age 35) or law enforcement officer (age 37) positions. Maximum Entry Age only applies to primary positions that are filled by appointment subject to a retirement system (e.g., permanent, term). Visit the NPS Information site at http://fire.blm.gov/retire for more information on Maximum Entry Age.
For both of the above groups of standard position descriptions, and all new standard PDs, NPS has established a PD numbering system. The PD number appears in Block #14 of the PD coversheet (OF-8). Anytime these PDs are used, the personnel office is to put the corresponding PD number into the automated personnel system (FPPS). This PD number will appear on the incumbents notification of personnel action (SF-50), next to the position number.
We conducted 2 training sessions in Albuquerque, NM in February, and 2 sessions in March in Washington, DC and Boston, MA.
We are working on claims primarily in date of receipt order and then date of birth order. In general, the FERS claims submitted in 1995 are the oldest, so we are working on them in date of birth order. However, we and the NPS Ranger Activities Division are concerned about getting the old CSRS/Administrative claims reviewed, therefore we are reviewing one old CSRS claim to every two FERS claims, by date of receipt order, then date of birth order. We have completed 7 claims, requested additional information on 15 claims; and have received 17 new claims/letters of intent to file a claim since January 1, 1999. Our current total of pending claims is 824.
NPS LIST OF CLAIMS
A list of NPS claims is available to provide information to claimants and personnel office on which claims have been received, which are waiting for additional information, and which claims are completed. For information on how to access this list contact Heather.
POSITION DESCRIPTIONS (PDS)
We receive about 25 PDs a month that are submitted by management for coverage under special retirement (6c). That number increases every time we give training when supervisors and personnelists realize that management recommendations for position coverage have not been submitted to our office. We encourage supervisors and personnelists to review the NPS list of PDs, which is contained on our home page, to assure that the PDs management recommends for coverage have been submitted. If a PD is not on the list, print out the NPS training Handbook Supplement from the homepage and follow the PD submission procedures. Call Marilee or Heather for more information. We currently have 105 PDs pending, 70 to review, and 35 that have been reviewed, but that are awaiting requested information.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS CORNER
LAW ENFORCEMENT REORGANIZATION
The recent reorganization of BIA Law Enforcement Services has required the development of new position descriptions for all law enforcement staff. I am working with the Albuquerque Personnel Office to submit the new standard position descriptions for police officer, correctional officer and criminal investigator positions to DOI for law enforcement retirement approval. That means everyone in law enforcement will have their new position submitted for law enforcement retirement approval automatically.
BIA law enforcement standard position descriptions were previously approved for special retirement by OPM in 1989 and 1993. But, if you were in one of those OPM covered positions, and your position number changed or your position was reclassified and not submitted for law enforcement retirement, you need to file a claim to get that time covered.
If you are an employee in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and are filing a law enforcement retirement claim to get retirement approval for BIA law enforcement work you performed prior to 1989, your claim should state why you did not file a claim before the 1989 deadline for CSRS employees to file claims.
When a law enforcement officer or firefighter retires, he/she submits their retirement papers to their personnel office, who sends them to OPM. If you are applying for the special 20 year retirement, OPM regulations require that your retirement package include retirement approval letters covering you as an individual, or for positions you worked in, for the 20 years you worked law enforcement/fire or both. If you do not have approval letters equaling or exceeding 20 years of approved time, your retirement claim with OPM could be returned due to insufficient evidence.
If you were in an approved position prior to going to a new position in 1999, you need to have an approval letter for that covered period even if you were having the 1/2% deduction taken out of your pay for special retirement. The 1/2% deduction for law enforcement/firefighter retirement may be in error. The individual or position approval letter is the only evidence recognized as proof of special retirement coverage qualifying a person for special retirement benefits. If you do not have an approval letter for one or more of your previous positions, check in your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) in your servicing personnel office. If the OPF does not contain the approval letter you seek, you can contact me, Matt Wagers, via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 208/387-5045 to see if the approval letter is in the FLERT files.
I want to thank Wayland Lily, Aberdeen Area Range Conservationist-Fire, for inviting me to the Aberdeen Area FMO Workshop in Rapid City, SD in March. The retirement information sessions during meetings are a great way for me to meet fire and law enforcement people face to face and answer their retirement questions and concerns. I am also available for the full 1 ½ day FF/LEO retirement training sessions through a written request from a host BIA Agency. I am available for the full trainings in July, October, November and December 1999. We are also taking reservations for trainings in 2000. Sounds far away, but it's just around the corner.
Keep mailing in those retirement claims!
1. When is Maximum Entry Age applied? What is qualifying past service?
Maximum Entry Age (MEA) must be applied to applicants for positions with 'primary' coverage, prior to age 35 for firefighters and age 37 for law enforcement officers. This only applies to initial entry to positions subject to retirement - not applicants moving from one covered position to another covered position. Prior federal civilian service which is creditable for retirement, and has been approved for special retirement can be subtracted from the applicant's age to reduce it to below age 35/37.
2. If I'm over age 55 or 57 and don't have my 20 years of covered service, what happens?
Employees who reach mandatory retirement age KEEP ON WORKING if they don't have 20 years of service covered under special retirement as long as they continue to meet other requirements of the position description ( i.e. physical fitness)
3. If I'm 55 or 57 and in a covered position, do I really have to retire?
YES, if you have 20 years of service approved for special retirement coverage. Waivers to mandatory retirement are very rare, only for the benefit of the government and should be for a very short duration. Such waivers must be sent up the chain-of-command to the Bureau's Washington Personnel Office, who must then submit it to the DOI. Only the Secretary of the Interior can approve waivers of mandatory retirement. OPM highly encourages the agency to retire the employee and hire them as a re-employed annuitant. Employees who enter a non-covered position prior to mandatory retirement are taken out of the special retirement code and are NOT subject to mandatory retirement. Note: non-covered positions should not be in the firefighting or law enforcement field.
This is distributed to Human Resource'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 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
Matthew 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.