Leaving office during the transition? Your pay and benefits questions answered

For the 4,000 political appointees getting ready to leave the Obama administration, the next nine weeks will be full of conversations about policy, budgets and organizational charts.

In the mad dash to Jan. 20, there may be some questions about your pay and benefits — and what changes once you’re out the door — that get lost in the shuffle.

The Office of Personnel Management published much of this information in its 2016 Presidential Transition Guide.

“While the federal government begins preparation for a presidential transition, the core values and principles of merit-based civil service must endure,” acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said in an Oct. 31 statement announcing the transition guide. “This guide provides the incoming administration and agency officials who have transition responsibilities with a detailed description of the various rules, regulations and policies that govern the establishment of transition teams, the departure and appointment of political appointees and the treatment o career federal employees during the transition period.”

Federal News Radio reviewed the guide book in search of the answers to the most important questions about your pay and benefits.

What happens to my health insurance when I leave?

Group health insurance will continue for 31 days at no cost after separation.

Departing executives can keep coverage temporarily for another 18 months, if they file an election with their agency and pay both the employee and employer shares of the cost and a 2 percent administrative fee on their current plan or another Federal Employee Health Benefit plan. Some will have the ability to continue coverage and convert it to non-group coverage beyond the 18 months if your health plan offers the option.

Political appointees can also find other options on the Health Insurance Marketplace or elsewhere, the transition guidance said.

Dental and vision coverage under the Federal Employees Dental/Vision Program (FEDVIP) will typically end when you leave federal service, although you might be eligible for an immediate annuity.

What happens to my federal long-term care insurance or life insurance when I leave?

As long as you continue to pay premiums, you will be able to keep your long-term care insurance under the same coverage and price, the transition guide said.

OPM will remain the policyholder, and Long Term Care Partners will continue to administer the policy.

Departing employees who use payroll deduction should contact Long Term Care Partners directly to change their payment method.

Your life insurance will continue for 31 days for no cost after separating. You can covert all or part of your coverage to a non-group policy.

“Rates [are] based on age and class of risk,” the transition guidance said. “No medical examination is required, although you may be asked a few questions about your health to see if you qualify for a lower premium.”

Am I eligible for unemployment compensation?

Most departing presidential appointees, non-career and limited Senior Executive Service appointees, as well as Schedule C employees, are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.

Because the Labor Department views these separations as “involuntary,” most departing employees can take advantage of the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program, the guidance said.

Specifically, you’re likely eligible for unemployment benefits if you resign “by request due to a change in presidential administrations or agency leadership” if you meet all the state requirements.

Appointees who resign before being asked to do so won’t likely be eligible for unemployment benefits.

What about retirement?

Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), you can apply for retirement at age 56 with 30 years of service, age 60 with 20 years or age 62 with five years.

If you’re not yet eligible for retirement, you could qualify for a deferred annuity, but you must have at least five years of civilian service.

“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,” the guidance said. “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.”

What are the restrictions on my post-employment options?

As OPM, members of Congress and even President-elect Donald Trump have indicated in the past, political appointees have strict guidelines to avoid “burrowing in” to the next administration.

You can compete for any public service position that is open to the general public.

But many jobs are only open to current federal employees or status candidates, the transition guidance said, and those positions are usually not open to you.

Only departing appointees eligible for veterans’ preference or career tenure — or those who haven’t had a break in federal service of more than three years since leaving a competitive service job — have the right to be reinstated to a career job.

“This means that you may apply for jobs open only to status candidates and do not have to compete for employment with candidates from outside the government,” the transition guidance said. “Agencies do not have to consider reinstatement candidates for any particular job.”

OPM recommends that departing political appointees contact their agency’s designated ethics officials or the Office of Government Ethics for specific guidance.

If you retire, you can return later to federal service as a reemployed annuitant in most cases.

Read the latest news about the incoming administration on our Tracking the Transition page.

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