• on May 26th, 2014 in Labor | 8 comments

    Offering workplace benefits such as health and retirement programs and paid vacations is a well established way to attract and retain talented workers. But the structure of these offerings has been changing in the public and private sectors over the past 20 to 30 years for several reasons, including rising pension debts; a more mobile workforce; and a move towards simplified administration of benefits.

    Employers have been looking to shed excessive pension expenses and give workers more control over their own retirement programs. Increasingly, private, local, and state employers are moving away from defined benefits plans that generally pay a guaranteed sum based on wages and years of service. They are increasingly favoring defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k) plan, a pretax fund built on employee and employer contributions. Meanwhile, retirement benefits plans for federal workers, including postal employees, have generally remained unchanged since the Federal Employees Retirement System was enacted in 1987.

    Similarly, the U.S. Postal Service’s leave benefits have stayed primarily the same for decades. Days off are organized into categories – annual, personal, sick, military (if applicable), and federal holiday – and the rate of leave accrual depends on the category. When taking leave, a postal employee has to indicate which category the leave falls into. But many companies are moving toward fewer categories, such as just vacation days and sick days. This simplified approach cuts down on administrative costs.

    As the Postal Service looks for ways to tighten its belt, it is considering changes in benefits, such as a new retirement program for future workers. But it is in a bit of a Catch-22. It is required to offer compensation and benefits that are comparable to those in the private sector, but it cannot change its benefits programs unilaterally, due to legal requirements and union agreements.

    At the request of the Postal Service, we issued two white papers that benchmarked its benefit programs against those of several comparable organizations. Specifically, we looked at retirement benefits and leave policies. We found many similarities in benefit offerings, but key differences, too. For example, retirement expenses make up a larger portion of total benefits for the Postal Service than for the other organizations we studied. Also, postal employees can carry over 55 or more days of annual leave each leave year and an unlimited number of sick days. But the other organizations had far more restrictive leave carryover.

    Share your thoughts or experiences on leave programs that consolidate all days off into one comprehensive plan. Might such a program for postal employees offer flexible benefits while reducing costs? Or does the current system work well? What changes, if any, are needed to the Postal Service’s retirement plans? 

  • on Jan 31st, 2011 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 75 comments
    In 1916, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) was enacted. FECA provides medical, compensation, death, and other benefits, such as vocational rehabilitation, and nursing services to federal employees who sustain injuries, including occupational diseases, as a result of their employment. All Postal Service employees are covered by FECA. The Department of Labor (DOL) administers FECA and makes all decisions regarding the eligibility of injured workers’ to receive workers’ compensation benefits. DOL provides direct compensation to medical providers, claimants, and beneficiaries. The Postal Service reimburses DOL for all workers’ compensation claims in addition to paying an administrative fee. In fiscal year 2009, the Postal Service workers’ compensation expense was approximately $2.2 billion, an 81 percent increase from $1.2 billion in FY 2008. These costs include $55 million in DOL administrative fees for FY 2009. About 72 percent ($718 million) was a non-cash charge related to changes in the estimated discount and inflation rates used to calculate the liability for future payments. At the end of FY 2009, the Postal Service estimated the total liability for future workers’ compensation cost was over $10 billion. One of the contributing factors to the high cost of workers’ compensation payments is that FECA does not mandate a cut-off age for workers’ compensation benefits. Thus, injured workers can continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits well past the legal retirement age of 65, and in some cases employees over the age of 90 are still receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Fraudulent workers’ compensation claims also result in higher overall costs. To combat workers’ compensation fraud the OIG launched its crime prevention and awareness campaign in September 2009 and a joint year-long initiative with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in February 2010. The successful investigative efforts saved the Postal Service more than $400 million for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 combined. What can the Postal Service do to reduce workers’ compensation costs? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Human Resources and Security Audit Team.
  • on Jun 1st, 2010 in Strategy & Public Policy | 5 comments
    In a time when everyone is examining the dollars and cents of the postal business, people have a tendency to overlook the bigger picture: the greater role of the Postal Service in modern society. With that in mind, the Postal Regulatory Commission requested the Urban Institute to study the Postal Service. The focus was not a traditional look at the business but a study of the benefits of the Postal Service and its infrastructure to the American population. The abstract and the final report, both of which were released last week, cites “…the postal system has had a civic as well as an economic mandate that legislators and regulators interpret with changing times and circumstances in mind. An independent agency of the executive branch, the USPS opens access to information for preserving democracy, fostering commerce, and promoting the general welfare. It’s a public good and a great equalizer insofar as it serves rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old, unhealthy and hale.” The report’s author, Nancy Pindus, found eight types of benefits: •Consumer benefits – Provides price competition for other delivery services and access to goods for the underserved. •Business benefits - Provides a logistical component for smaller businesses, an advertising channel serving a spectrum of businesses, and as a center of commerce in communities (through post offices). •Safety and security - Offers mail carriers’ role within the neighborhood and places the Postal Service in a position to assist in emergencies or in cases of natural disaster. •Environmental benefits – Acts as a test site in exploring environmental products and services; provides last-mile service to other delivery companies and utilizes post offices as centers for recycling efforts in many communities. •Aid in the delivery of other government services – Functions as an intermediary for government services on local, state, and Federal levels. •Information exchange – Holds a traditional role of democratically disseminating information, whether through periodicals, community groups or other channels. Post offices also serve as center for posting of community notices. •Social links – Delivers personal communications, carriers provide a regular link to the community for a number or people, post offices are a center for local contact and identity. •Civic pride – Serves as the only representative of Federal government in many areas, often tied into an area’s community identity. In your opinion, have any roles been overlooked? Should any of these roles be eliminated and if so, why? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).