DHS Staffing Shakeups Continue Amid Early Retirement and Reassignment Offers

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The Trump administration is continuing to shake up the Homeland Security Department, requiring furloughs and deployments of some employees, while offering others incentives to retire early or exclusive opportunities to apply for positions elsewhere in the department.

The early retirement offers were sent out this week to employees at the Transportation Security Administration, according to an internal email obtained by Government Executive. Patricia Bradshaw, TSA’s assistant administrator for human capital, told employees management is taking the steps to “fine-tune the organization.” Transportation security officers at 35 airports currently offered retention incentives, and certain other positions, will not be eligible for the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority offers.

Elsewhere in TSA, the agency is offering Federal Air Marshals Service workers an opportunity to apply for jobs at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The openings are exclusively available to the Air Marshals and are for both ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations and Homeland Security Investigations offices. Employees would serve as deportation officers or criminal investigators.

The agency told employees the opportunity was for Air Marshals Service employees “wishing to provide their skills within other areas of DHS,” but would not lead to attrition within the component.

“Let me be perfectly clear, the Federal Air Marshals Service will remain as the key law enforcement component within TSA,” the agency told employees. “This effort is not a plan to reduce or eliminate the FAMS,” adding it is “fully committed to hiring for all positions vacated by this effort.”

Days after receiving that email, however, TSA employees, including some at the Air Marshals Service, received the early retirement offers.

Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, has told 800 officers from ports around the country they will face two consecutive 60-day deployments to the southwest border. DHS has asked for reprogramming authority to temporarily move the employees, according to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the CBP officers. CBP last year deployed 750 officers from their normal ports of entry posts to the southwest border.

The officers would serve in Texas at Rio Grande Valley and Laredo posts. Cases of the novel coronavirus are currently spiking in the state, which NTEU said makes the deployments unsafe.

“We have grave concerns about sending additional federal law enforcement personnel into a region where COVID-19 cases are spiking and hospitals are nearly full,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. The agency is struggling to keep safe CBP personnel already in the area, Reardon said, and has not demonstrated it will have the requisite personal protective equipment, lodging and transportation and access to health care for additional staff.

Reardon added CBP has not committed to testing employees at the end of their deployments or requiring them to quarantine for 14 days, as public health officials have recommended for those who may have had exposure to the virus. Reardon said the agency does not have adequate testing or contact tracing for CBP employees already at the border. More than 1,000 agency employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“CBP should be focusing its resources on the health and safety of CBP personnel already assigned to the border, including policies that allow for appropriate social distancing at the port and giving employees more time to remain safe at home,” Reardon said.

The DHS workforce shakeups follow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services using reduction in force procedures to send furlough notices to more than 13,000 employees last month. The agency has cited a downturn in application receipts stemming from the coronavirus pandemic as the root of the budget crisis necessitating the forced, unpaid time off. USCIS has notified Congress it is seeking $1.2 billion to avoid the furloughing of more than 70% of its staff, but Republican and Democratic aides have said they are still awaiting a formal request for the funding.

Labor Board Makes It Easier for Federal Employees to Cancel Union Dues

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The board tasked with overseeing labor-management relations in the federal government on Wednesday issued final regulations making it easier for workers to cancel their union dues, despite opposition from labor groups and accusations of shifting rationale from its own member.

Last February, the Federal Labor Relations Authority announced that it would shift its interpretation of federal law governing how agencies may collect dues on behalf of employee unions. Although traditionally, federal employees could only opt out of union membership at one-year intervals, under the new rule, they will be able to cancel their dues at any time after one year has passed.

In its original decision, the FLRA cited a need to reexamine the rule following the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, which ruled that non-union member employees of public sector agencies could not be compelled to pay so-called “agency fees” to support unions’ representational work. But unions, observers, and some federal judges have since noted that the Janus decision doesn’t apply to federal sector unions, since they already are barred from collecting fees from nonmembers.

In a final rule set to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the FLRA said it has only relied on interpreting the “plain language of the statute” in its reevaluation of existing precedent.

“While the request for a general statement of policy or guidance asked the authority to find that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution compelled a certain interpretation of [the statute], the majority decision rested exclusively on statutory exegesis, rather than principles of constitutional law,” the FLRA wrote.

The agency justified the change by arguing that previous precedent relied too heavily on the legislative history of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act when the text of the law is unambiguous.

“In support of the criticism of the [current rule], the authority relied on [the statute’s] plain wording,” the FLRA wrote. “In particular, the section says that an assignment may not be revoked for a period of one year, and such wording governs only one year because it only refers to ‘one year.’”

FLRA Member Ernest DuBester, the lone Democrat on the three-member board, issued a dissent on the rule change, hammering his colleagues for no longer mentioning Janus after multiple courts have ruled against federal workers seeking to cancel their dues allotments outside of the standard opt-out window. He wrote that the rule will “generate more questions than answers” and that it creates contradictions within the FLRA’s regulations.

“As noted by the majority, a number of parties expressed concern that the rule would require agencies to unlawfully disregard the terms of previously authorized assignments, and would ignore the revocation terms that appear on the current OPM forms governing dues assignments and assignment revocations,” DuBester wrote. “In response to these concerns, the majority explains that the rule would ‘apply only to dues assignments that are authorized on or after the rule’s effective date,’ and that agencies would therefore not be required to disregard the terms of previously authorized assignments that the agencies received before the rule’s effective date. But this explanation appears to contradict the rule’s plain language, which applies its provisions to ‘previously authorized assignments.’”

American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley decried Wednesday’s rule as a “meritless” effort to make it easier for federal agencies to engage in “union busting.”

“The final regulation issued by the FLRA reverses nearly a half-century of settled and well-reasoned legal precedent by ending window periods for federal employees who join their union, paving the way for them to drop at any time after 12 months,” Kelley said. “The administration pushed for this anti-labor rule change and refused to relent, even in the midst of a global pandemic that has forced frontline federal workers to beg and plead with agencies for basic safety protocols and personal protective equipment.”

And the National Treasury Employees Union said it has already filed a legal challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seeking to block the new rule. NTEU National President Tony Reardon said the measure was “clearly written in an effort to harm unions.”

“Federal employees join our union because they believe in empowering frontline workers and the FLRA cannot take that away from us,” Reardon said. “However, the administration should not be allowed to bypass Congress and simply rewrite labor laws it doesn’t like, which is why we are fighting this in court.

Understanding WEP & GPO Under Social Security Federal Retirement Benefits

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Federal employees are often concerned about how Social Security will impact their federal retirement. If you are a CSRS employee, you should know that there are many variables to be considered if you have ever paid into Social Security. In this blog, we are discussing Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) and suggesting ways on how federal employees can maximize their Social Security and get better federal retirement benefits. Read More

How the Secure Act Could Benefit You

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Late last year, new legislation was signed into law that will usher in some of the most sweeping changes to retirement plans in decades. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement (or SECURE) Act was originally passed by the House of Representatives last spring. It failed to pass the Senate then, but the legislation was included in the year-end spending bill that was passed on December 20, 2019.

The SECURE Act became effective on January 1, 2020, and it will inevitably affect many retirement savers, for better or worse. Here are a few of the most significant provisions that you should be aware of:

No more age restriction on traditional IRA contributions

Before the Secure Act, you could not make contributions to a traditional IRA for the year during which you reached age 70 1/2 or any later year. (There’s no age restriction on Roth IRA contributions, and the Secure Act does not change that.)

New law: For tax years beginning after 2019, the Secure Act repeals the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. So, for tax years beginning in 2020 and beyond, you can make contributions after reaching age 70½. That’s the good news.

Key point: The deadline for making a contribution for your 2019 tax year is April 15, 2020, but you cannot make a contribution for 2019 if you were age 70 1/2 or older as of Dec. 31, 2019. Thanks to the new law, you can make contributions for tax year 2020 and beyond.

Side effect for IRA qualified charitable distributions

After reaching age 70 1/2, you can make qualified charitable contributions of up to $100,000 per year directly from your IRA(s). These contributions are called qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs. Effective for QCDs made in a tax year beginning after 2019, the $100,000 QCD limit for that year is reduced (but not below zero) by the aggregate amount of deductions allowed for prior tax years due to the aforementioned Secure Act change. In other words, deductible IRA contributions made for the year you reach age 70 1/2 and later years can reduce your annual QCD allowance.

You generally must begin taking annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts (traditional IRAs, SEP accounts, 401(k) accounts, and the like) and pay the resulting income tax hit. However, you need not take RMDs from any Roth IRA(s) set up in your name.

Before the Secure Act, the initial RMD was for the year you turned age 70 1/2. You could postpone taking that initial payout until as late as April 1 of the year after you reached the magic age. If you chose that option, however, you must take two RMDs in that year: one by the April 1 deadline (the RMD for the previous year) plus another by Dec. 31 (the RMD for the current year). For each subsequent year, you must take another RMD by Dec. 31. Under an exception, if you’re still working as an employee after reaching the magic age and you don’t own over 5% of the outfit that employs you, you can postpone taking RMDs from your employer’s plan(s) until after you’ve retired.

New law: The Secure Act increases the age after which you must begin taking RMDs from 70 1/2 to 72. But this favorable development only applies to folks who reach 70 1/2 after 2019. So, if you turned 70 1/2 in 2019 or earlier, you’re unaffected. But if you will turn 70 1/2 in 2020 or later, you won’t need to start taking RMDs until after attaining age 72. As under prior law, if you’re still working after reaching the magic age and you don’t own over 5% of the employer, you can postpone taking RMDs from your employer’s plan(s) until after you’ve retired.

Key point: If you turned 70 1/2 in 2019 and have not yet taken your initial RMD for that year, you must take that RMD, which is for the 2019 tax year, by no later than 4/1/20 or face a 50% penalty on the shortfall. You must then take your second RMD, which is for the 2020 tax year, by Dec. 31, 2020.

Now for the bad news

Stricter rules for post-death required minimum distributions curtail ‘Stretch IRAs’: The Secure Act requires most non-spouse IRA and retirement plan beneficiaries to drain inherited accounts within 10 years after the account owner’s death. This is a big anti-taxpayer change for financially comfortable folks who don’t need their IRA balances for their own retirement years but want to use those balances to set up a long-term tax-advantaged deal for their heirs.

Before the Secure Act, the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules allowed you as a non-spouse beneficiary to gradually drain the substantial IRA that you inherited from, say, your grandfather over your IRS-defined life expectancy.

For example, say you inherited Grandpa Dave’s $750,000 Roth IRA when you were 40 years old. The current IRS life expectancy table says you have 43.6 years to live. You must start taking annual RMDs from the inherited account by dividing the account balance as of the end of the previous year by your remaining life expectancy as of the end of the current year.

So, your first RMD would equal the account balance as of the previous year-end divided by 43.6, which would amount to only 2.3% of the balance. Your second RMD would equal the account balance as of the end of the following year divided by 42.6, which translates to only 2.35% of the balance. And so, on until you drain the inherited Roth account.

As you can see, the pre-Secure Act RMD regime allowed you to keep the inherited account open for many years and reap the tax advantages for those many years. With an IRA, this is called the “Stretch IRA” strategy. The Stretch IRA strategy is particularly advantageous for inherited Roth IRAs, because the income those accounts produce can grow and be withdrawn federal-income-tax-free. So, under the pre-Secure Act rules, a Stretch Roth IRA could give you some protection from future federal income tax rate increases for many years. That’s the upside.

Unfortunately, the Secure Act’s 10-year rule puts a damper on the Stretch IRA strategy. It can still work, but only in the limited circumstances when the 10-year rule does not apply (explained below). This development will have some well-off folks and their estate planning advisers scrambling for months (at least) to react. That’s especially true if you’ve set up a “conduit” or “pass-through” trust as the beneficiary of what you intended to be a Stretch IRA for your heirs.

Key point: According to the Congressional Research Service, the lid put on the Stretch IRA strategy by the new law has the potential to generate about $15.7 billion in tax revenue over the next decade.

Effective date: The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change is generally effective for RMDs taken from accounts whose owners die after 2019. The RMD rules for accounts inherited from owners who died before 2020 are unchanged.

Who is affected?

The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change will not affect account owners who drain their accounts during their retirement years. And account beneficiaries who want to quickly drain inherited accounts will be unaffected. The change will only affect certain non-spouse beneficiaries who want to keep inherited accounts open for as long as possible to reap the tax advantages. In other words, “rich” folks with lots of financial self-discipline.

The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change also will not affect accounts inherited by a so-called eligible designated beneficiary. An eligible designated beneficiary is: (1) the surviving spouse of the deceased account owner, (2) a minor child of the deceased account owner, (3) a beneficiary who is no more than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner, or (4) a chronically-ill individual (as defined).

If your grandfather dies in 2020 or later, you can only keep the big Roth IRA that you inherit from him open for 10 years after his departure.

Under the exception for eligible designated beneficiaries, RMDs from the inherited account can generally be taken over the life or life expectancy of the eligible designated beneficiary, beginning with the year following the year of the account owner’s death. Same as before the Secure Act.

So, the Stretch IRA strategy can still work for an eligible designated beneficiary, such as an account owner’s much-younger spouse or recently born tot. Other non-spouse beneficiaries (such as an adult child, grandchild, niece or nephew) will get slammed by the new 10-year account liquidation requirement. So, if your grandfather dies in 2020 or later, you can only keep the big Roth IRA that you inherit from him open for 10 years after his departure. Bummer!

10-year rule specifics: When it applies, the new 10-year rule generally applies regardless of whether the account owner dies before or after his or her RMD required beginning date (RBD). Thanks to another Secure Act change explained earlier, the RMD rules do not kick in until age 72 for account owners who attain age 70 1/2 after 2019. So, the RBD for those folks will be April 1 of the year following the year they attain age 72.

Following the death of an eligible designated beneficiary, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years.

When an account owner’s child reaches the age of majority under applicable state law, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years after that date.

The bottom line: As you can see, the Secure Act includes both good and bad news for folks who don’t enjoy paying taxes. The new law includes more important tax changes that I’ve not covered here.

3 examples of new RMD rules for non-spousal retirement account beneficiaries

Example 1: David dies in 2020 and leaves his IRA to designated beneficiary Diane, his sister, who was born eight years after David. Diane is an eligible designated beneficiary. Therefore, the balance in the inherited IRA can be paid out over her life expectancy. If David dies before the account is exhausted, the remaining balance must be paid out within 10 years after her death.

Example 2: Diane dies in 2020 and leaves her IRA to designated beneficiary David, her brother, who was born 12 years after Diane. David is not an eligible designated beneficiary because he is more than 10 years younger than Diane. The balance in the inherited IRA must be paid out within 10 years after Diane’s death.

Example 3: Michael dies in 2020 at age 85. He lives his $2 million Roth IRA to his 24-year-old spouse Melissa. Since Melissa is an eligible designated beneficiary, the new 10-year rule does not apply to her. As a surviving spouse, she can retitle the inherited Roth account in her own name. Then she will not have to take any RMDs for as long as she lives. So, this is a situation where the Stretch IRA strategy still works well (although not quite as well as before the Secure Act for reasons that are too complicated to explain here).

Example 4: Michael dies on Dec. 15, 2019. He left his IRA to designated beneficiary Melissa, his beloved niece, who is 30 years younger than Michael. Because Michael died before 2020, the balance in the inherited IRA can be paid out over Melissa’s life expectancy under the pre-Secure Act RMD rules. If Melissa dies on or after 1/1/20, the balance in the IRA must be paid out to her designated beneficiary or beneficiaries or the heir(s) who inherit the account within 10 years after Melissa’s death.

If you think this is something you should consider, reach out to us to get your Free Retirement review to see how we can help you maximize your TSP in regards to using the New Secure Act.  Contact us or give us a call at (877) 733-3877 x 1 to schedule your review today!

4 Common Retirement Planning Mistakes Federal Employees Should Avoid

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Once you are done with your job responsibilities, you want to spend the remainder of your life, i.e. the retirement period relaxing, chilling, traveling around the world, or spending more time with your loved ones. If you are a federal employee and want to enjoy federal retirement benefits to the full, it’s important that you smartly and strategically plan your retirement. Mistakes committed during the process can cost big and lead to a financial crisis post-retirement. Here are a few mistakes that you should avoid to ensure a secure financial future- Read More

Retirement Claims Backlog Falls By Only 1.5 Percent Last Month

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After the annual spike in retirement claims submitted by federal employees at the beginning of the year, the Office of Personnel Management was only able to reduce its backlog by a few hundred claims last month.

The agency received 17,134 retirement claims in January, a huge increase compared to this time last year, when it received 13,264 claims, and the 9,273 it received in February.

Meanwhile, OPM processed 10,059 claims in January and 9,627 in February, bringing its backlog inventory to 23,629 by the end of February—only down from 23,983 in January, a reduction of 1.5%.

It took an average of 58 days to process a single claim in January and 54 days in February.

The figures come from OPM’s monthly claims processing progress report available on the OPM website.

If you think your ready for retirement, and would like a Free Retirement Review, visit our Contact Us page to Request and Schedule your review today or call (877) 733-3877