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Federal Employees News Digest : Oct. 15, 2012
4 Visit us on the Internet at www.FederalDaily.com period that court accumulated a 226 to 3 record against whistleblowers for decisions on the merits. In cases where the president exercises dis- cretionary power to impose national secu- rity exemptions on employees' whistleblower rights, the bill also requires the president to exercise that power prior to a challenged per- sonnel action. The bill also clarifies that protec- tion of critical infrastructure information does not override WPA protection. Additionally, the legislation provides for compensatory damages for whistleblowers who prevail in WPA cases after an administra- tive hearing. The bill also establishes whistle- blower protections for Transportation Security Administration employees. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA airport screeners, urged the Senate to pass the bill on its return. "The Senate needs to pass the bill (which has bipartisan support among senators) during the lame duck session after the election for it to be sent to the president and signed into law," the union said in a statement. Prospects good GAP noted that a similar bill reached this point in the legislative process near the end of the last Congress only be to killed in December 2010 by "an anonymous senator's 'secret hold.'" The group said that this time, however, the bill is expected to clear the Senate in the lame duck session. While GAP Legal Director Tom Devine said that the bill overall represented "a major, bipar- tisan victory for good government," he said that some important provisions nonetheless had been trimmed from the legislation. "The bad news is that our work is not done," Devine said in a statement. "Demands by a few key Republicans removed provisions for jury trials that Congress has provided for near- ly all corporate whistleblowers, and national security reforms to prevent classified leaks through protection for those who act respon- sibly within government's institutional checks and balances." At the same time, Devine praised "key champions" across the political spectrum for supporting the bill, including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), Todd Platts (R-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) Devine aimed special praise at retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), whom he called "the pioneer in the 13-year legislative cam- paign to pass the WPEA." To see more, go to: http://tinyurl.com/95tnpqw. Plan to cut SSA hours draws barbs A union that represents employees at the Social Security Administration strongly criti- cized an agency plan to cut the number of hours SSA field offices are open to the public. The president of the American Federation of Government Employees Social Security Council, Witold Skwierczynski, called the plan "a deliberate attempt by Commissioner [Michael] Astrue to deny Social Security ben- eficiaries and the public access to critical infor- mation they need to successfully navigate the system." "Forty-six Social Security offices have been closed over the past 21 months, field office staff have been cut, and over 300 contact stations around the country have closed," Skwierczynski said. "The pattern is clear, SSA is saying to the public, 'we are getting out of the service busi- ness, you're on your own.'" Under the proposal, field offices that cur- rently close at 3:30 p.m. would close at 3:00 p.m. beginning Nov. 19. Starting Jan. 2, 2013, offices also would begin to close at noon on Wednesdays. The union, which said it represents 27,000 SSA employees, criticized Astrue for what it characterized as an "aggressive agenda of mov- ing all applications, benefit inquiries and other questions onto the Internet." The council said the initiative is moving forward too quickly, and that many Social Security claimants "cannot navigate complex retirement and disability applications on the Internet" and need the face-to-face service available at the field offices to apply properly for benefits. The council said that in union sur- veys, SSA employees have indicated that errors on Internet-submitted claims cause applicants to lose thousands in benefits. Rather than cut office hours, the union said, SSA instead should eliminate a "bloated man- agement structure," including 42 management offices which the union claims are costly to maintain, but which "perform no direct service for the American public." "We have heard recently that SSA plans to spend $55 million to build a fence around the headquarters building," Skwiercznski noted in a statement. "Apparently even when the nation is overwhelmed with debt, SSA can find money when it wants to." ••• In Brief retiree tricare enrollment fees up Higher Tricare enrollment fees for uni- formed services retirees and their families took effect Oct. 1. Tricare announced in June that the enroll- ment fees for Tricare Prime would change for most retirees, to $269.28 per year for individual coverage, and $538.56 per year for family cov- erage. Those who enrolled before Oct. 1, 2011, saw a more significant increase because their annu- al enrollment fee remained at the 2011 levels of $230 (individual) and $460 (family) when the fees increased last year, according to Tricare; retirees enrolled after Oct. 1, 2011, were already paying $260 and $520 for individual or family coverage, respectively. The only beneficiaries exempt from annual enrollment fee increases are those classified as either survivors of active duty deceased spon- sors, or as medically retired uniformed service members and their dependents. Germany cracks down on non-e.U. drugs Tricare informed beneficiaries posted in Germany that authorities in that country will begin enforcing an existing law that forbids the importation of medications into the coun- try from outside the European Union. According to a news report from the American Forces Press Service, on Jan. 1, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service must stop delivery of imported pharmaceuticals to FPO and APO addresses in Germany. Tricare's mail-order beneficiaries were sent an Oct. 1 letter notify- ing them of the change in policy. continued from page 3 October 15 2012 Vol. 62, No. 14 4 Visit us on the Internet at www.FederalDaily.com
Oct. 8, 2012
Oct. 22, 2012