Monthly Archives

May 2018

NTEU Reacts To Recent Executive Orders Targeting Feds

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The National Treasury Employees Union president is calling the three executive orders released by Trump last week a “threat” to the federal workforce and the federal government as a whole.

“The executive orders indicate an administration threatened by workers with rights. Our union has been around 80 years and this is not our first battle on behalf of federal employees,” NTEU Tony Reardon said. “The truth is these orders will disrupt the workplaces of every agency, add red tape and impede the quality work that taxpayers expect and deserve,” he added.

The executive orders, issued on May 25, will 1) limit the amount of time an employee can be under investigation for misconduct and encourages firings for underperformers, 2) states that employees who conduct union activities while on the job must spend at least 75 percent of their time doing government work and 3) calls for the Office of Personnel Management to renegotiate contracts with unions regarding the reporting of official time instead of working directly with individual agencies.

Reardon stressed that the orders will not immediately effect current employees and noted that the collective bargaining agreements currently in place, will remain in effect.

“NTEU believes agencies will need to wait until contracts are reopened or expired before they can try to impose the anti-labor provisions called for by the executive orders,” according to the statement.

Officials Outline Plans to Loosen “401k” Federal Savings Plan Withdrawal Rules

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Officials at the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings plan on Wednesday announced how they plan to provide additional flexibility to participants in light of a law signed by President Trump last fall.

The 2017 “401k” Federal Savings Plan Modernization Act, enacted last November, will allow federal employees and retirees to make multiple age-based withdrawals from their “401k” Federal Savings Plan accounts and remain eligible for partial withdrawals after they leave government. Additionally, those who have left government would be able to make multiple partial post-separation withdrawals.

At a meeting of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the “401k” Federal Savings Plan , project manager supervisor Tanner Nohe said employees of the agency have been working on implementation since the new law was signed. They plan to finish implementation by September 2019.

Under current rules, participants in the “401k” Federal Savings Plan are allowed one partial withdrawal in their lifetime—either in-service at age 59 1/2 or one after leaving federal service. After that one withdrawal, if a participant wishes to take money out of their account, they must make a full withdrawal, setting up monthly payments or an annuity or take a lump sum.

But Nohe said once the new rules are in place, a participant will be able to make post-separation withdrawals as frequently as once every 30 days without triggering a full withdrawal. Additionally, in-service age based withdrawals will be possible up to four times per year.

“With the change to one withdrawal every 30 days, that’s just a processing rule,” he said. “It’s to prevent mistakes or duplication.”

The law also lays the groundwork to provide participants greater flexibility in changing the amount and frequency of monthly installment payments. Before the “401k” Federal Savings Plan Modernization Act, a former federal employee could only receive payments from their account on a monthly basis, and changes to the sum of those payments could only be made during an open season period between October and December.

Nohe said that under the upcoming changes, a participant could elect to receive “401k” Federal Savings Plan payments on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. On top of that, they can change both the amount and frequency of payments at any time of year, and participants can elect to stop and restart installment payments anytime. Retirees also will be able to make partial post-separation withdrawals while receiving regular payments.

Before the rest of the provisions of the new law go into effect, “401k” Federal Savings Plan will cease its practice of “account abandonment” as early as August, Nohe said. Under current “401k” Federal Savings Plan and Internal Revenue Service rules, when a participant reaches the age of 70 1/2, they must arrange for a full withdrawal and make a required minimum distribution to take out of their account each year.

If someone does not do that, “401k” Federal Savings Plan moves all of their holdings into the G Fund—government securities that accrue at a statutorily mandated interest rate—and contacts the participant to inform them of the change. Agency spokeswoman Kim Weaver said that usually prompts the person to contact the agency, at which point they set up how they wish to receive payments and the money is reinvested in other portfolios as they wish.

Nohe said that under the change that will go into effect this summer, that full withdrawal election is no longer required. Instead of abandoning an account, the agency will send a check for the minimum withdrawal payment required by law. Additionally, participants will be able to select whether the required payments come from their standard or Roth account, or some combination of the two.

To learn more please reach out to us and get your personalized review.

Trump Goes After Fed Employees With Executive Orders

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In three executive orders signed May 25, 2018, President Donald Trump took aim at making federal employees easier to fire while cutting back on union time.

The first order fulfils a longstanding goal of the Trump administration in making it easier for the government to fire poor performers from federal positions. The order would limit the amount of time an employee under investigation for misconduct could spend on probation and encourage firings.

The second order specifically targets the use of official time, which allows federal employees to conduct union activities such as representing employees in disputes and negotiating contracts with the agency, by stating that federal employees must spend at least 75 percent of their time doing government work.

Official time use has recently come under fire by both OPM and members of Congress, who say that the rising amount of time spent per employee is a waste of taxpayer money. However, many experts have said that current methods for measuring official time use are likely wildly inaccurate.

The use of official time is protected under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, and the amount of official time used by employees within an agency is usually up to the negotiations between unions and the agency.

The third of the executive orders calls for the renegotiation of such contracts, placing the responsibility for the negotiating strategy with the Office of Management and Budget within the White House and requiring that union contracts are posted online.

“These Executive Orders are about protecting taxpayers’ dollars, including those of our dedicated federal employees, and putting those resources to use in the most efficient and effective way possible,” said OPM Director Jeff Pon. “By holding poor performers accountable, reforming the use of taxpayer-funded union time and focusing negotiations on issues that matter, we are advancing our efforts to elevate the federal workforce.”

The American Federation of Government Employees, however, called the orders “hellbent on replacing a civil service that works for all taxpayers with a political service that serves at its whim.”

“President Trump’s executive orders do nothing to help federal workers do their jobs better. In fact, they do the opposite by depriving workers of their rights to address and resolve workplace issues such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, retaliation against whistleblowers, improving workplace health and safety, enforcing reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, and so much more,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “These executive orders strip agencies of their right to bargain terms and conditions of employment and replace it with a politically charged scheme to fire employees without due process.”


New Managment Company for “401k” Federal Savings Plan

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The “401k” Federal Savings Plan announced this week that it had awarded a new contract for management of the “401k” Federal Savings Plan ‘s F Fund, a portfolio designed for people on a fixed income. The fund again will be managed by Blackrock Institutional Trust Company, N.A., the firm that already handles both it and every other “401k” Federal Savings Plan portfolio.

In a statement, “401k” Federal Savings Plan officials said the contract is initially for one year, and the agency has the option to renew for four subsequent years. As of last month, the F Fund held $27.4 billion in assets, including a variety of public and private sectors of the U.S. bond market.

Is it your turn to look at other alternatives of managing your “401k” Federal Savings Plan ? Ask us how you can get the best use of your one time in service withdrawal while still working.

Pay and Leave Changes For Some Agencies

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Border Patrol agents assigned to look after their canine colleagues while off duty could soon receive overtime credit for those responsibilities under a bill approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday.

The Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Amendments Act (H.R. 5896), introduced Monday by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Filemón Vela, D-Texas, would provide greater flexibility to Customs and Border Protection to compensate agents for canine care, training and other aspects of their jobs.

For instance, those agents responsible for caring for the agency’s dogs would receive an hour of overtime credit for each calendar day they perform those services (see the legislation for details). The bill also increases the amount of advanced training an agent may participate in, and allows accrual of overtime debt when agents exceed the new cap. Additionally, Border Patrol agents would be able to apply compensatory time off for travel toward previous overtime debt, and some agents would be allowed to use alternative work schedules.

Hurd said in a statement that the bill will “streamline” the overtime process and provide border patrol agents with more reliable paychecks each pay period.

“The men and women of Border Patrol have highly demanding jobs and are our most important assets on the front line,” he said. “We must take care of them and ensure that they are being compensated for the grueling hours they put in to secure our borders. These brave agents deserve certainty each time they receive their paychecks.”

The committee also approved another bill that would expand the 2015 Wounded Warrior Federal Leave Act to health care providers in the Veterans Affairs Department. The law gave 104 hours of medical leave immediately to first-year federal employees who are veterans with a service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent. But due to an oversight in the 2015 law, it didn’t apply to physicians and other health care providers at the Veterans Health Administration, whose jobs are classified under Title 38 and therefore weren’t covered by it. Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced the Veteran Transition Improvement Act (H.R. 2648) nearly a year ago to rectify that.

“Veterans should not have to choose between receiving a full paycheck and receiving care for their service-connected disabilities,” Stivers said. “Unfortunately, current law puts many veterans in this exact position. This legislation will correct this shortcoming in the law to ensure these veterans who have made, and continue to make, incredible sacrifices for our country have the ability to receive care without sacrificing pay.”

How Pay Raises and Retirees COLAs Work

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As administration officials and lawmakers consider an array of proposals that could impact pay and benefits for federal employees and retirees, it’s worth going over the annual process federal agencies undertake to determine potential pay increases for workers, and cost of living adjustments for retired annuitants.

Last week, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon suggested that a proposal to reduce or eliminate cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees was justified both because he didn’t “know of any other retirement system that actually pays COLAs,” and because COLAs are based on where a retiree lives. In a statement Monday, an OPM spokesperson clarified that Pon was referring to the fact that annuities are based on workers’ highest three years of total salary, which includes locality pay.

“In his testimony, the director sought to emphasize that locality pay is already factored into an annuitant’s retirement pay, and hence, no future increases based upon where a retiree chooses to live are appropriate,” the spokesperson wrote. “The director further outlined that the private sector trend has been to offer a retirement compensation package that does not include annuity COLAs, and that federal service annuities should follow suit and mirror this trend.”

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Each year, deliberation over federal employee salaries begins with the release of the president’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which is typically released in February. That document includes the White House’s proposal for an across-the-board raise (or lack thereof) for both civilian federal employees and members of the military.

This year, President Trump proposed a pay freeze for civilian workers in 2019. Congress has the power to overrule the president on across the board pay increases, although in recent years it typically has deferred to the White House.

By the end of August, the president must reaffirm his compensation proposal for the following calendar year by issuing an alternative pay plan declaring that a so-called “economic emergency” exists, preventing a much larger automatic formula-based pay raise that would be triggered under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act.

Last year, Trump’s plan raised pay by 1.9 percent—an increase of 1.4 percent in base salary with an average increase of 0.5 percent in locality pay. Without the president’s intervention, the locality pay increase would have averaged 26.16 percent, costing the federal government $26 billion.

In December, the President’s Pay Agent must issue a report finalizing the White House’s planned pay increase. That report also formally implements previously approved changes and additions to the locality pay area program. Last year, the pay agent confirmed the overall 1.9 percent pay increase, and while it reaffirmed previously approved regional additions to the list of locality pay areas, it delayed implementation until 2019.

The process for determining cost of living adjustments for retirees is much simpler. According to OPM’s website, both Federal Employees Retirement System and Civil Service Retirement System COLAs are based on the annual third quarter change in the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers.

For CSRS retirees, the percentage change in CPI is applied directly to their monthly annuity. FERS annuitants receive a COLA equal to the percentage increase in the average CPI-W for the third quarter of the current year over the average CPI-W for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective, provided it is 2 percent or less. If the CPI-W increases between 2 and 3 percent, the COLA is 2 percent. And if the CPI-W increases by more than 3 percent, the COLA is that increase minus 1 percent.

Unlike across-the-board pay increases for current employees, the size of COLAs for retirees do not vary based on where they live. Changes to which regions’ current federal employees receive additional compensation based on location are proposed by the Federal Salary Council, a board made up of federal officials and representatives of unions and other employee groups. Those recommendations are then acted upon by the President’s Pay Agent, and if approved, the pay agent sends them to OPM for implementation via the standard rulemaking process.

Last year, no new locality pay areas were proposed, because the salary council was not reconstituted until December. The President’s Pay Agent, hamstrung by the lack of a permanent OPM director, also deferred action on locality pay areas recommended by the salary council in 2016. OPM now plans to conduct a rulemaking process for already approved locality pay areas—Birmingham, Alabama; Burlington, Vermont; San Antonio, Texas; and Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia—as well as new areas recommended in April: Corpus Christi, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Thrift Savings Plan

How Will You spend Down Your “401k” Federal Savings Plan Account

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Have you started to think about how you’re going to use your “401k” Federal Savings Plan investments once you retire from federal service? Are you already retired? If you’re among the many people who have accumulated a small fortune, what are you going to do with it?

Many federal employees have used some of their retirement savings during their career by borrowing from their accounts using the “401k” Federal Savings Plan loan program. According to recent statistics, more than 250,000 “401k” Federal Savings Plan loan transactions are processed every year. In addition, more than 120,000 in-service withdrawals are processed for financial hardship as well as age-based withdrawals for employees age 59 ½ and older. Over the past few years, only about 35,000 separated participants per year have initiated monthly payments from their “401k” Federal Savings Plan accounts. Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management processes about 100,000 federal retirement claims every year.

Over the years, you’ve had to decide how much of your salary to save in the “401k” Federal Savings Plan and in which funds to invest those savings. Considering the “401k” Federal Savings Plan had a balance at the end of January of $559 billion, the 5.2 million “401k” Federal Savings Plan participants have done an amazing job of accumulating retirement assets. More than 90 percent of all FERS employees are actively participating in the “401k” Federal Savings Plan . The Life Cycle funds represent more than 20 percent of total “401k” Federal Savings Plan assets, and allow simple diversification across the C, G, F, S, and I funds by allocating assets according to a time horizon based on when you intend to start using the funds. The size of the C Fund now matches the G Fund, with each fund holding a balance as of the end of January of approximately $205 billion.

If you’re nearing retirement, you face some decisions about how to use this important piece of your retirement benefit. Will you choose a monthly payment to supplement your federal retirement benefit and Social Security? Are you going to purchase a life annuity from MetLife, will you take payments directly from your account balance, or will you do a qualified rollover to another IRA Annuity that will offer more income, more features than the typical MetLife Annuity?  Will you continue to allow the account to grow and decide later on how to draw on your funds? Are you planning to “peck” at it as needed for major expenses that come up along the way? Have you considered how you will continue to manage your wealth of savings once you begin to spend this valuable asset? Are you worried about running out of money at some point? These are important questions to consider as you plan your transition to full retirement. That’s one area we believe we can help guide you in making the right decision.  Request your Retirement Review and “401k” Federal Savings Plan Analysis (see link below) to see what’s best for you.  For example, we have Joe, retired with about $223,000  and since the rollover, seven years ago, H-E-B has taken out over $98,000 but still has an account balance today of $199,840.  How’s that’s for a return and still at no risk at all of ever losing principal.

Here are three questions you need to ask yourself.

1.  Do you like the idea of never losing your principal due to a down market?

2.  Do you like the idea of having a Guaranteed income you can never outlive, or that will pay for the rest of your life or your spouse life?

3.  Would you like to have the option to leave more of your principal for your children or grand-children, or the flexibility to pull more of your account balance as the years go by as you choose too without ANY penalty?

if you answered yes to any or all of these questions, we have a solution for you.

A few weeks ago I provided an update on the “401k” Federal Savings Plan Modernization Act changes that are slated to go into effect by November 2019. They will provide more withdrawal flexibilities for “401k” Federal Savings Plan participants, allowing them to take partial withdrawals, change the amount of monthly payments, and choose whether withdrawals should come from a traditional “401k” Federal Savings Plan account or a Roth account.

The Employee Benefits Research Institute released an issue brief on how people spend their retirement savings. The study was limited to retirees from private companies with 10 or more employees. Among its findings:

  • Within the first 18 years of retirement, those with $500,000 or more saved spent down 11.8 percent of their accumulated assets. Those with less than $500,000 saved spent about a quarter of their savings.
  • While some retirees do spend down most of their assets in the first 18 years following retirement, about one-third of all sampled retirees had increased their assets over that period.
  • Individuals with a pension were much less likely to have spent down their assets than those without pensions. In the first 18 years of retirement, the assets of retirees with pensions only went down 4 percent. For those without pensions, the figure was 34 percent.

According to the report, retirees face several factors—including uncertainties about life span, medical expenses, and market returns—that cause many of them to spend their retirement assets slowly.

Those covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System have the traditional “three-legged stool” of a retirement benefit (a form of pension), Social Security and retirement savings in the “401k” Federal Savings Plan . Some FERS retirees are currently living on only one or two of those legs, while others have left federal employment, but are not fully retired. In the Civil Service Retirement System, by contrast, many people retired and lived on their federal retirement benefit alone long before the “401k” Federal Savings Plan was available.

The “401k” Federal Savings Plan has been around for more than 30 years. Until recently, the focus of its participants has been on accumulating retirement assets. Now many of them are thinking about how and when to spend them. They’ll soon have more options for doing that, but that will mean they may need additional education and resources to be confident that their life after retirement will be financially comfortable for as long as they live.

Here are some tools from the “401k” Federal Savings Plan to help you as you assess your withdrawal options:

You can also  Request your free personalized review a “401k” Federal Savings Plan Analysis,

Will Proposed Compensation Changes Help Or Hurt Federal Retirement

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Recent proposals from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budgetwould freeze federal pay for a year, and decrease federal employee compensation by increasing the employee contribution to the Federal Employees Retirement System by one percent per year until it reaches 50 percent.

They would also eliminate cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for FERS retirees, and reduce CSRS retiree COLAs by 0.5 percent. They would eliminate the FERS Special Retirement Supplement for those employees who retire before Social Security eligibility age, calculate employees’ annuity based on the “High-5” salary years instead of “High-3” salary years, and reduce the “G” fund interest rate.

Needless to say, those proposals have generated a lot of controversy. Some critics argue they have not gone far enough, while others say federal workers have carried a disproportionate share of budget cuts in recent years.

The proposals do not appear to have enough support in Congress to pass, so any discussion of them might appear to be academic. On the other hand, the proposals are not going away and we should expect to see them surfacing again and again.

Federal vs. Private Sector

The reason proposals such as these are popular with some folks is that federal benefits are typically more generous than what rank and file employees in the private sector receive. Combined with greater job security, many argue that the benefits more than offset the lower pay that many higher graded employees and those in in-demand occupations receive relative to the contemporaries in the private sector.

Is that true? And, if it is, should that drive federal compensation decisions? I am going to try to unpack the issue a bit and look at some of the arguments and where I think this debate will finally land.

Overpaid or Underpaid?

Let’s start with the basic question regarding federal pay relative to the private sector.

There are more than two million non-postal federal employees. Some people will tell you they are grossly overpaid, while others argue they are underpaid. Neither of those broad-brush assertions is true.

Federal pay is a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge. Some is too low, some is too high, and some is just right. The biggest problem is that we are not using any reliable process to determine which jobs are in each category.

For the most part, federal pay decisions lump different types of jobs into grades with no consideration at all of how such jobs might be compensated in the private sector. That approach invites the overly broad “everyone is overpaid” and “everyone is underpaid” arguments, because the pay decisions themselves are overly broad.

If federal pay decisions were based more on data about jobs and how they are compensated in the labor market, it would be much more difficult to make sweeping statements about federal pay. The political debates regarding the federal workforce would have to stand on their own merits, rather than using federal pay and benefits as a proxy.

Some people will assert that federal pay should not be compared to the private sector, because the government is different. The part about the government being different is true, but the reality is that the federal government is an employer that competes for talent in the same labor market as the private sector, not-for-profit organizations, and academia. There has to be some way of evaluating how the government pays its employees, or the government cannot effectively compete for talent. Because public service is a public trust, it is also important for government to not overpay its employees using the tax dollars of people who are not paid so generously.

Recruiting Talent

When we look at the current proposals, one statement I have heard repeatedly it that these proposals would result in government having trouble recruiting the right talent. The pay freeze proposal might serve as a deterrent to applicants in high-demand jobs, but I do not believe the retirement proposals will harm recruiting.

Particularly when we are looking at younger applicants, retirement planning is not high on the list on priorities. As long as the government offers the “401k” Federal Savings Plan with a decent match, the retirement benefits will be adequate to compete in a market where defined benefit plans such as the FERS annuity are almost extinct.

Do I think the government should be an average employer? That is another question for another post.

That does not mean these proposals would have no impact on recruiting. The fact that they are, in effect, changing the conditions of employment for people who have already been hired may make some applicants think twice about applying for federal jobs. On the other hand, the private sector does that often, based upon the changing business environment.

Job Stability

One additional factor that has to be taken into consideration is the stability of federal employment. Federal jobs are remarkably stable. Federal employees do not have to worry about their employer going broke, merging with someone else, or deciding to drop a line of business.

The number of people separated by reduction in force in fiscal 2017 was 135. Out of 2.1 million. That extraordinary stability of employment has to be factored in somehow.


OPM’s recent proposals are not radical changes. In fact, if the proposals had been to make prospective changes that would affect only new hires, the reception on the Hill might have been more positive. It is far easier to change the rules for people who have not been hired than it is for those who are on the payroll today and who have made career decisions based upon today’s rules.

Even though these changes are not likely to pass any time soon, we should not expect them to go away. Until federal pay is brought into the 21st century and based on comparisons of jobs to similar jobs in the private sector, the debates will continue.

Now if you have two months to ten years until your retirement, it’s a good idea to have a Retirement Review to help Plan, Prepare and Execute a Plan for a better Retirement

OMB says it cannot locate any public comments on its reorg

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Although the Office of Management and Budget asked for public input on its restructuring efforts, it now says it cannot find any such comments and one organization filed a lawsuit in response.

After President Trump signed an executive order in March of last year for the OMB to reorganize the agency by eliminating unnecessary programs, Director Mick Mulvaney posted a video soliciting ideas and input from the public—also a part of the order.

But, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility—a nonprofit group of government workers that aim to further environmental laws and values—after the public comment period ended, the OMB website boasted that it had received more than 100,000 comments, but the statement has since been deleted and the agency now claims in a lawsuit, filed by PEER, that it has no record of receiving any comments.

“How could they not locate 100,000 comments?” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, said in a statement, adding, “The White House call for public involvement in reforming government seems to have been merely a cynical stunt.”

Ruch added, “We will likely never know if the public registered strong preferences supporting or exactly opposite what the Trump team has done.

View the PEER statement, as well as OMB’s response to the lawsuit here.

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GSA Announces $2.5 Billion Modernization of Federal Payroll and Leave Systems

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The General Services Administration on Thursday issued a pre-solicitation notice seeking contractors to upgrade the payroll systems serving 2.2 million civilian federal employees.

Companies holding GSA IT Schedule 70 contracts, SINs 132-40 and 132-51, will be eligible to compete for one or more blanket purchase agreements off of which agencies can order services, according to the May 17 notice. The blanket purchase agreements will last for 10-13 years and are expected to have a ceiling of more than $2.5 billion.

In addition to modernizing payroll services, the “NewPay” initiative will encompass work schedule and leave management systems. The goal is “to shift operations and maintenance of payroll functions to innovative commercial solutions using the Software as a Service (SaaS) model,” GSA said in its announcement of the pre-solicitation notice. “This will enable agencies to focus more resources on core mission priorities and deploy modern and secure work schedule, leave management and payroll solutions to support a modern workforce.”

Agencies’ payrolls were last consolidated during the George W. Bush administration, which narrowed 26 payroll providers down to four, saving more than $1 billion over 10 years, GSA said. The latest modernization initiative fits with the President’s Management Agenda cross-agency priority goals of sharing quality services and IT modernization, GSA noted.

“NewPay potentially benefits every federal civilian employee in the executive branch, including the civilian workforce within the armed services and quasi-federal agencies,” GSA stated. “NewPay will provide user friendly self-service options, future cost-avoidance and increased efficiency in a secure environment.”

The pre-solicitation notice will close on June 1.