The Office of Personnel Management has released the 2016 Presidential Transition Guide. Close to 4,000 political appointees will soon be leaving office. The acting OPM Director, Beth Cobert issued a statement saying, “While the federal government begins preparation for a presidential transition, the core values and principles of merit-based civil service must endure. This guide provides the incoming administration and agency officials who have transition responsibilities with a detailed description of various rules, regulations, and policies that govern the establishment of transition teams, the departure and appointment of political appointees and the treatment of career federal employees during the transition period.”
So, what exactly should you know about your benefits if you’re leaving office with the presidential transition? Some benefits will remain the same, while others will not. Let’s look at these a little closer.
Group health insurance policies will continue for 31 days at no cost after the separation from federal service. Departing executives can keep coverage for an additional 18 months if they file an election with their agency. A two percent administrative fee on the current plan (or another plan, if changed) along with both the employee AND employer shares of the cost must be paid. If your health plan offers the option to convert to a non-group policy, and you change it, coverage will continue beyond 18 months.
Dental and vision coverage will usually end; however, you may be eligible for an immediate annuity.
Long-Term Care and Life Insurance
Given that you continue to pay the premiums, long-term care insurance will continue at the same price and coverage. OPM will remain the policyholder, and you must change your payment method from payroll deduction.
Life insurance will continue for 31 days at no cost after separation. You also have the option of converting all or part of your coverage to a non-group policy. Rates are dependent upon age. No medical exam is required; however, health questions may be asked to see if you qualify for a lower premium.
Most departing presidential appointees, noncareer and limited SES appointees and Schedule C employees are eligible to apply for unemployment compensation. The Labor Department views these separations as involuntary. Therefore, most departing employees can take advantage of the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program. Those also eligible are employees who resign “by request due to a change in presidential administrations or agency leaderships”.
Employees who resign before being asked to do so are not eligible for unemployment compensation.
Under FERS, you can apply for retirement at age 56 with 30 or more years of service, age 60 with 20 years, or age 62 with at least 5 years of service. If you are not eligible for immediate retirement, you may qualify for a deferred retirement provided you have five years of civilian service. The guide reads, “whether or not you qualify for a deferred benefit, you may elect to receive a refund of your contributions as long as you are not eligible for an immediate annuity. To qualify for the refund, you must be separated for at least 31 days and apply for the refund at least 31 days before you qualify for a deferred annuity”.
Restrictions on Post-Employment Options
There are strict guidelines for political appointees who want to “burrow in” for the next administration. However, they can compete for any public service position open to the public. To have the right to be reinstated to a career job, they must be eligible for veteran’s preference, career tenure, or haven’t had a break in service longer than three years since leaving. “This means you may apply for jobs open to only status candidates and don’t have to compete for employment with candidates from outside the government. Agencies don’t have to consider reinstatement candidates for any particular job.”
Generally, you can return to federal service as an employed annuitant after you’ve already retired.