Federal budget includes billions for staffing, construction
December 21, 2007

In sending President Bush a $555 billion omnibus 2008 spending bill that he could sign, congressional Democrats met the White House’s demands for a top-line spending figure. But many agencies will receive a budget that is markedly different from Bush’s original proposal.
The Congress shifted around tens of billions of dollars, avoiding cuts requested by the White House for research grants at the National Institutes of Health, low-income housing programs at the Housing and Urban Development Department, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, among others.
Those changes often came at the expense of Republican pet projects: The Millennium Challenge Corporation will lose 12 percent of its budget; Reading First, part of the No Child Left Behind Act, will see its budget cut nearly two-thirds; and funding for abstinence-only sex education was frozen at 2007 levels.
And some federal agencies will see sizable increases in their budgets for 2008. Congressional leaders hope the extra funds will pay for improved services, new construction and increased staffing.

One of the largest increases is at the Veterans Affairs Department, where Congress provided $3.7 billion more than the administration requested.
“For our veterans, this package includes a record $43.1 billion in funding for the VA,” said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. “An additional $124 million is included to hire more VA personnel to reduce a six-month backlog of benefit claims.”
Officials hope the new hires, plus technological upgrades being financed by the bill, can avoid future backlogs. Another $1 billion of the VA’s budget was earmarked for major construction projects. The department has been working to meet the recommendations of the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) study, which evaluated programs at 18 VA sites.
Congress also made a major investment in the Social Security Administration, providing the program with $9.7 billion, nearly a half-billion dollars more than 2007. A portion of that will go toward reducing a backlog in disability claims: An administration spokesman said SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue plans to hire an additional 150 administrative law judges and support staff. Currently some 755,000 claims await processing.
The spending bill also will impact two key staffing issues. The first is pay: Federal employees will receive a 3.5 percent overall pay raise.

There is an added bonus for Customs and Border Protection officers. Starting in July, they will have law enforcement officer (LEO) status, which carries a much better retirement package than they are getting now. A Government Accountability Office report found serious retention problems plaguing the agency: More than 100 officers are leaving each month on average. Many of those leaving cited the lack of law enforcement status as a reason.

I am gratified that these steps finally have been taken. They should help CBP address its serious recruitment, retention and morale problems,” Colleen Kelley, president of the NTEU, told Federal Times.

CBP officers will receive LEO status in July and they will fall under a hybrid system that offers features of their existing federal pension benefit and the LEO benefit. New officers will immediately be covered by the enhanced LEO benefits.

“We really believe that LEO benefits for CBP officers should be retroactive,” said Kelley, “but determined that this new proposal that would provide enhanced retirement benefits for all onboard CBP officers was a positive development that deserved our support.”


From what I understand...

I will now have a 20 year retirement earning 2% per year of service (40% of high three averaged). I am not exactly sure when the 20 year clock begins, but since I only have 4.5 years in, that means I can walk at least 5.5 years earlier than I thought I'd have to stay!

I also understand that the change is a hybrid of what we currently get and "6c" coverage. With 6c, we would get 25% upfront for OT and our hours would flex a lot, and we would get time and a half or over 50hrs. Under this plan we keep our double time for over 40 hours, we also keep our shift diff, (15% noons, 20% mids). So it seems to be the best of both worlds.

More to come as it unfolds.