September 1998 Newsletter
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
FIREFIGHTER AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
RETIREMENT TEAM (FLERT)
FILING A CLAIM FOR SPECIAL RETIREMENT!!!
Is there a time limit when I should file my claim for special retirement? Yes!!!! It is getting harder for us to approve timeliness for a claim when there is so much information available on how and where to submit your claim for coverage.
Under CSRS rules, individuals had a date of September 30, 1989 to file for all previous periods of service. Coverage in a position or credit for past service will not be granted for a period greater than one (1) year prior to the date that the request from an individual is received. However, an agency head may extend the time limit for filing when in the judgment of such agency head or Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the individual shows that he or she was prevented by circumstances beyond his or her control from making the request within the time limit. In other words you can file a claim now but need to state the reason you did not file before the September 30 deadline. Under FERS rules, individuals have 6 months to file a claim for position coverage.
It is also important to keep us advised of your current mailing address and to furnish copies of your SF-50's (personnel action) should you change positions or duty stations. When an employee retires we would also like to have a copy of the 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).
We have conducted several training sessions since our last newsletter and still more to come this quarter. In addition to our training to be held in Boise in October, we did training for NPS in Omaha in September and for BIA at Ft. Defiance, AZ, and Ft. Apache, AZ. Other training sessions to be held in October are at Grand Canyon National Park, October 20-23 and Dinosaur National Park October 27-30 and Anchorage, AK, October 26-27. More training - FWS training November 5 & 6 in Klamath Falls, OR, NPS training in Denver November 5 & 6, and training will be held at Colville Agency, Portland Area on December 1st & 2. If you are interested in attending any of these sessions you can contact anyone of us for more information.
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. We are in the process of updating our data base and new position listings will be available after November 1, 1998. We will be furnishing personnel offices with a copy for their state as soon as this data base is finished.
FWS Corner - Fall Already????
Wow, here it is September already and a year has nearly past for reviewing and making recommendations for the FWS program. I am here to tell you, it seems as though I have barely started with the review process. I have now received over 200 claims since January1998. That number is growing, on average, about 2-3 claims a day. I have given about 12 informational and/or training sessions thus far throughout the various regions. I have reviewed and made recommendations on approximately 32 individual claims. Progress is slow but it is beginning to pickup a little. I have been traveling quite a bit lately and will continue to provide training sessions. I believe the educational process of this program is a key to getting the proper interpretation to 5 CFR 8336(c) and 5 CFR 8412(d). I realize we have had some problems with various interpretations of these regulations, but several Merit System Protection Board and U.S. Court of Appeals cases have clarified some key issues. For example:
examining position description duties versus actual duties performed (Phillips v. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), 1994); Nuss v. (OPM) (1992); Felzien v. OPM (1991) Cole v. OPM 1985; Little v. OPM 1985 and Ellis v. United States (1979));
using a combination of law enforcement duties and firefighter duties for primary coverage (Phillips v. OPM 1994);
timeliness of an individual claim (Mitchell v. Department of Agriculture, 1994);
traffic stops can even be considered an investigation (Ferrier v. OPM 1994); and
maintenance and use of firefighting apparatus and equipment (Felzien v. OPM 1991).
More recently, in Bingaman v. Department of the Treasury (1997),the U.S. Court of Appeals has clarified what is a law enforcment officer. The Court stressed that "a law enforcement officer within the statutory contemplation commonly (1) has frequent direct contact with criminal suspects; (2) is authorized to carry a firearm; (3) interrogates witnesses and suspects, giving Miranda warnings when appropriate; (4) works for long periods without a break; (5) is on call 24 hours a day; and (6) is required to maintain a level of physical fitness." With this in mind, the Department of the Interior has delegated this office the responsibility to review, analyze and recommend coverage for firefighters and law enforcement officers.
The purpose of my position is to accommodate all FWS employees (e.g., individual, personnelists, and managers). I am trying to perform a function that is mandated by law, but has been misunderstood or misinterpreted in the past. That is, until 1994, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had made several interpretations of what is a law enforcement officer (LEO) or firefighter position. Many of the previously noted decisions expanded the interpretation. The regulations (5 CFR 8336 (c) and 5 CFR 8412 (d) now have been given a broader meaning. For instance, as noted earlier, five key, or very important elements now favor the claimant: (1) actual duties performed; (2) using a combination of LEO and firefighting duties; (3) even a traffic stop can be considered an investigation; (4) timeliness of an individual claim; and (5) what is the definition of a law enforcement officer.
As discussed in several meetings the week of August 24, in Washington, DC, until position management is properly used, especially under CSRS rules, Firefighter and Law Enforcement Retirement Team (FLERT) members will always be revisiting the issue of "what is the definition of primary, especially with regard to law enforcement officers." Many CSRS individuals began their careers as primary LEO's; however, over the years have been given less LE responsibility. This is what many individuals interpret as "collateral duty" officers. It is true, currently, many LEO's are performing "collateral" or secondary duties. However, we must first review an individuals' entire career to see if he/she has performed primary duties somewhere in their past and transferred to a secondary position. In other words, if one initially began their career in a primary position and made a transition into a secondary (collateral) position with no break in service/coverage, then that individual is likely to be eligible for the special retirement program. This is the case with many CSRS employees whose claims I have reviewed (BLM, NPS and FWS). My review includes not only SF50s or position descriptions, but supervisor affidavits, training records, SF171s, performance evaluations, and other supporting documentation. The review process is a long drawn out, tedious process. We (FLERT Team Leader and myself) review each claim perhaps 2 or 3 times before a final recommendation is made. In some instances, the claim is even being reviewed by our solicitor's office and an individual's lawyer. My point is that the review process is not being taken lightly and the final recommendation does have merit, if challenged in an Merit System Protection Board hearing or a U.S. court of law.
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE MY CLAIM IS RECEIVED BY FLERT??
This is a frequently asked question. Well, following is a short description of the process. First, we receive the claim. It is logged into our computer network, then an acknowledgment letter is sent to the individual with a courtesy copy sent to the servicing personnel office (SPO). Then it prioritized for further review. That is, FWS set up a priority system for reviewing claim files - priority 1 is CSRS claims age 50 and over; priority 2 is CSRS claims age 50 and under; and priority 3 is FERS claims. Next, a request is made of the SPO to sent our office all SF50s so that we might complete a work history of all federal service. The package is then compiled into an organized file for review. The file is then reviewed and analyzed for content - to see if there is enough information to support primary and/or secondary duties. After the review, if enough information is available, a recommendation is made. The file then goes to the Team Leader for review and signature, or if the claim requires more information; the file is then returned to the Specialist's desk. He/she requests more information from the individual or perhaps the SPO. Once the Team Leader approves the file, the package then goes to the fire or law enforcement program official for review and signature. After their concurrence, then the package is sent to the Director, Office of Fire and Aviation. When he signs the package is sent to the Secretary's Designee (Mari Barr) at the Department of the Interior. Once her decision has been made, the package is sent back to the Specialist's desk for processing. If a positive decision is made, the work history is revised, a service computation date report is completed, and an official letter is developed for the SPO. This letter explains procedures involved in correcting SF50s to place the individual in the correct retirement code, and what needs to be completed and sent to the Payroll and Benefits Section in Denver Payroll. If the decision includes denied coverage, the individual is given appeal rights and should contact the appropriate Merit System Protection Board.
This has been a quick review of what the individual claim process entails. As we have stated before, the process is not going to happen overnight. It takes time - so please be patient.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS CORNER
Currently I am working on four individual firefighter/law enforcement officer (FF/LEO) retirement claims that may be subject to mandatory retirement should their claims receive coverage approval by the Department of the Interior (DOI). Under the provisions of 5 CFR 8336 (c) [CSRS] or 5 CFR 8412 (d) [FERS], the mandatory retirement age is: 55 years of age with 20 years of covered service for firefighters, and 57 years of age with 20 years of covered service for law enforcement officers.
When you submit your retirement papers to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for enhanced fire or law enforcement retirement benefits, OPM will request your approved position coverage or approved individual claim letter(s). If you believe you are covered, but do not have the OPM or DOI approval letter, the approval letter should be filed on the right side of your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) at your servicing personnel office (SPO). If you believe you are covered and the OPM or DOI approval letter is not in your OPF, please have your SPO contact me.
The best way to be sure that you are covered for FF/LEO retirement is to have a copy of the OPM or DOI approval letter that identifies your covered periods of service. You may also have an OPM or DOI individual approval letter that identifies specific work periods of your career that are approved by FF/LEO retirement. Even if you are in a standard position description (SPD) that has been approved for FF/LEO coverage, you will need the FF/LEO coverage approval letter for that position when you submit your FF/LEO retirement papers to OPM upon your retirement.
To be sure that you have coverage, it is important that you have copies of the OPM or DOI approval letter. Otherwise, when you submit retirement papers to OPM, you may have to track down approval letters as evidence for FF/LEO retirement, possibly delaying your targeted retirement date. If you are not covered and believe that you have been working in positions that fit the definition for FF/LEO retirement, please submit an individual retirement claim to my attention. The claim should include: Claim request, SF-50s, position descriptions, supervisor affidavits for periods where PDs are unavailable, FF and LEO training records and performance standards for the periods being claimed. Additional information on filing position coverage and individual claims can be found on our home page at http://fire.blm.gov.
I also want to thank the individuals and offices who hosted FLERT training sessions/assistance visits since the last newsletter:
September 6th and 7th Karen Chicarello, Albuquerque Area Office
September 22nd and 23rd Carlos Yazzie and Bill Watchman, Navajo Area/ Fort Defiance Agency
September 29th and 30th Lyn Levitt, Phoenix Area, Colorado Area Agency
October 6th and 7th Ken Butler and George Leech, Phoenix Area, Fort Apache Agency
We are now scheduling FLERT trainings for 1999. To schedule a FLERT training session at your office, please send a written request indicating the dates you are requesting the training to my attention. Hope to hear from you!
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CORNER
To keep you posted I have included a summary of a 6c Accomplishment Report as of July 31, 1998.
1. Position Descriptions 'To Do' 105
2. Total Claims Received in February 1100
Summary of those claims Recd Complete To Do
Administrative 372 182 190
FERS Claims 643 136 507
Others 85 85
New Claims 38
Cases returned for
correction 9 1 8
Total Individual Claims 1,147 319 828
All Administrative claims were reviewed by July 31,1998 - 190 needed additional information
Two training sessions were conducted in Omaha, NB the week of September 14. Training will be conducted in Grand Canyon, AZ the week of October 19 and at Dinosaur National Park the week of October 26. Training will also be held in Denver on November 5 & 6.
Q. What is currently being done on pending claims (CSRS)?
A. Claims are being processsed by date of birth, oldest first. If documentation is missing, we contact employee and/or servicing personnel office and ask for the needed information. No further work is done on the claim until information is received.
Q. What happens if I won't have 20 years of special retirement coverage at age 57?
A. You can keep on working as long as you meet the physical qualifications of the position.
Q. Is there any way to keep working after age 57?
A. If the employee has less than 20 years of service approved under special retirement, they can keep working, as long as they meet the physical requirements. If the employee has 20 years or more of service approved for coverage, they must either retire or go into a non-covered position
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.