Benefits

GSA requires that you enroll in many of the benefits offered to you within the first 60 days of work. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for Open Season, which typically runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December.

Leadership

Cristina Brydges is the Acting Director of the Talent Team. One of her duties is working with GSA’s HR groups.

Generally speaking, neither Cristina nor 18F can “advise” you on benefits — everything 18F offers is actually owned and run by GSA’s HR and Benefits groups. She can, however, help you escalate questions and problems and point you in the right direction.

Marty Sanchez-Lowery is our point of contact for health insurance (FEHB), life insurance (FEGLI), and retirement (FERS). You can find Marty’s phone number in the GSA Staff Directory. She works out of GSA’s National Capital Region building at 7th and D Streets, SW.

Please direct your questions and send all of your benefits forms to Marty. When filling out your benefit forms, you can use digital signatures on enrollment forms, including a copied-and-pasted version of your handwritten signature. The only benefit documents that cannot be submitted with digital signatures are beneficiary forms (for life insurance, retirement accounts, and so forth).

Communication

Find us in Slack:

Credit union

GSA has a credit union. It is free and easy to join if you’re a current employee. Once you join, you’re a member for life (even if you leave GSA).

Discounts

Organizations across the United States offer a number of discounts to federal employees. Specific discounts are covered here, here, and here, but some highlights include:

  • Major cell phone carriers offer a 15% discount on cell plans to all federal employees—just ask!
  • Apple offers a discount (~10%) to feds when they buy personal equipment.
  • General Assembly offers a discount to federal employees.

Flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts (FSA) allow you to pay for eligible out-of-pocket health care and dependent care expenses with pre-tax dollars. They cannot be used to pay any type of premium, and you must use all the money in your account by the end of the year or you risk forfeiture of the unused funds. However, there is a grace period. If you have unused funds in your FSA account and incur expenses from January 1 through March 15, you have until April 30 to submit claims against the prior year.

Common reimbursements include gym memberships (with a doctor’s note), over-the-counter medication (with a doctor’s note), and eyeglasses.

There are three kinds of FSA:

  • Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts are used to pay for qualified medical costs and health care expenses not covered by your Federal Employees Health Benefits

  • Limited Expense Health Care Flexible Spending Account (LEXHCFSA) is only available to employees who enroll in a FEHB program or under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA). Expenses are limited to dental and vision care services and products that meet the IRS definition of medical care.

  • Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts are used to pay for eligible dependent care expenses such as child care for children under age 13 or children who are physically or mentally incapable of self-care. In some cases, they’re also used to pay for elder care.

Flexible Spending Accounts run on a calendar year and enrollment into the program is closed on October 1 of each year. New and newly eligible employees who wish to enroll in this program must do so within 60 days of their start date and prior to October 1. If you miss this deadline, you must wait until Open Season (mid-November) to enroll for the following calendar year.

Please note that FSA does not automatically renew each year; you must re-enroll annually.

Insurance

Health

The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program offers a wide selection of health plans for eligible employees and their eligible family members.

Eligible employees may choose from:

  • Fee-for-Service plans and their Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs);

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) for those who live within the geographic area serviced by the plan; and

  • Consumer-Drive and High-Deductible health plans that offer catastrophic risk protection with higher deductibles, health savings and reimbursement accounts, and lower premiums.

The Office of Personnel Management lists the plans available in each state.

New employees, employees who move outside of the area covered by their plan, and employees who have certain life qualifying events have 60 days to enroll, modify, change, or cancel their plans. If you do not fit into one of those categories, you can change, modify, cancel, or enroll during Open Season. Open Season typically runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December. OPM provides a detailed FAQ on eligibility for federal employees.

To enroll or reenroll in FEHB, elect not to enroll in FEHB, change your enrollment, cancel your enrollment, or suspend your enrollment, fill out Standard Form (SF) 2809 and submit it to Marty Sanchez-Lowery. You can also reach out to her if you have any questions.

The earliest date your insurance can be effective is two weeks after your start date, assuming you send your documents in immediately. You get access to Employee Express, where you can check the status of your health insurance, after your first paycheck. You can also call your providers directly to confirm enrollment. Questions? Ask in #benefits.

Dental

To qualify for dental insurance, you must sign up within 60 days of joining 18F, after a qualifying life event, or during Open Season. Some health insurance plans come with dental coverage, so you may not need dental insurance. Read your plan booklet to see what’s covered. You can sign up for dental coverage on Benefeds.

Vision

To qualify for vision insurance, you must sign up within 60 days of joining 18F, after a qualifying life event, or during Open Season. Some health insurance plans come with vision coverage, so you may not need vision insurance. Read your plan booklet to see what’s covered. You can sign up for vision coverage on Benefeds.

If you have an eye appointment but have yet to receive your card(s), you can look up your Vision Care subscriber ID online. To do so, log on to CHRIS (your username is first name middle initial last name with no spaces), select Employee Views from the GSA Personal Self Service menu, and select the Benefits tab. (Note: it may take 4-6 weeks for your CHRIS login to work.)

Filing an insurance complaint

If you’re having difficulty resolving an issue or getting clarification from your insurer, follow these steps:

  1. Email FEHB@opm.gov and make sure to include:
    • Name of the insurer
    • Issue that you need resolved
    • What outcome you would like
    • A huge thanks to the team that wrangles these complaints
  2. They forward the issue to the company and use the complaint to see if there’s a pattern of abuse by the company
    • The company fix the issue at this point
  3. If you do not hear back within a reasonable timeframe, follow up with FEHB@opm.gov

Leave

Please use ALOHA to request sick leave and annual leave. For any leave-related questions, please contact GSA HR’s Leave Specialist, Leila Knight. You can find Leila’s other contact information such as her phone numbers in the GSA Staff Directory.

Annual leave

An employee may use annual leave for vacations, rest and relaxation, and personal business or emergencies. Annual leave accrues based on how long you’ve worked for the government:

  • Fewer than three years: four hours per pay period
  • Between three and 15 years: six hours per pay period

The maximum annual leave that can be carried over is 240 hours, and if you’ve transferred to 18F from another federal agency, your accrued annual leave will transfer with you. (It may take between two and four pay periods before Employee Express will display your accrued annual leave.) More information is available on OPM’s Pay and Leave website.

Donating leave

Under the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP), a covered employee may donate annual leave directly to another employee who has a personal or family medical emergency and who has exhausted their available paid leave.

To donate leave or view your donated leave balance, log into the Voluntary Leave Transfer System with your social security number and Employee Express password.

If the system is down, you can submit donation requests directly to Leila Knight.

Unpaid leave

Unpaid leave, also called Leave Without Pay (LWOP), is exactly what it sounds like. To take a leave of absence without pay, you’ll need justification, supervisory oversight, and, for longer terms, supervisory approval.

Sick leave

All federal employees, no matter how long they have worked, accrue four hours of sick leave per pay period. There is no maximum amount of sick leave you can accrue, and if you’ve transferred to 18F from another federal agency, your accrued sick leave will transfer with you. (It may take between two and four pay periods before Employee Express will display your accrued sick leave.) More information is available on OPM’s Pay and Leave website.

Parental leave

Parents can use any combination of sick leave, annual leave, and/or leave without pay for up to 12 weeks a year. Please note that leave without pay requires prior approval. Please contact Leila Knight for more information.

Family and Medical Leave Act

In addition to the types of leave detailed above, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows most federal employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period for: the birth or care of a child, an adoption or placement of child for foster care, the care of a spouse/son/daughter/parent with a serious health condition, a serious health condition of an employee, or a qualifying exigency from spouse, child or parent of an employee on covered active duty in the Armed Forces. An employee is entitled to taking FMLA when they have been an employee of the federal government for at least 12 months.

Former members of the military and/or a military service academy can receive credit for their time. They’ll need to fill out form FERS 3108. An employee who has transferred from another agency can use their time to count toward the 12-month restriction.

The Department of Labor has a detailed guide to FMLA, including this FMLA FAQ.

Advanced annual leave

An employee may only take advanced annual leave in the amount they will earn back by the end of the current leave year, and the advanced leave may not exceed 80 hours.

You can find Leave Year beginning and end dates in this Office of Personnel Management (OPM) fact sheet.

Advanced sick leave

In cases of serious disability or ailment, and when the exigencies of the situation so require, an employee may take advanced sick leave in an amount not to exceed 30 work days (240 hours). This advance may be granted whether or not the employee has any annual leave to their credit except where an application for disability retirement has been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management.

For employees serving under a limited appointment (term appointments) or one which will be terminated on a specified date, they may be advanced sick leave up to the total amount of sick leave which would otherwise be earned during the term of that appointment.

Additional advanced leave resources

Lunch and break periods

You can take a 30-minute or one-hour lunch break. Lunch breaks are unpaid, so you need to make sure you work eight hours per day. For example, if you come in at 8:00 a.m. and take a 30-minute lunch, you’d work til 4:30 p.m. If you took an hour lunch break, you’d work til 5:00 p.m.

You get two 15-minute breaks per day. These breaks do not extend the work day, since they’re paid. If you came in through the Peace Corps, you may have different options. Contact your bargaining unit or union directly for details.

Paychecks

We are paid biweekly. You’ll receive your first paycheck about three weeks after your start date. This is because every 18F employee starts work at the beginning of a pay period. It takes a week after the end of a pay period for a direct deposit to be made. See the GSA Payroll Calendar to determine future pay cycles.

Please direct questions to the payroll help desk: 1-844-303-6515 — or email them.

To see your recent pay stubs:

  1. Sign into Employee Express. If you don’t have access yet, email kc-payroll.finance@gsa.gov to request a copy. They’ll send it to you in a password-locked zip file.
  2. Click the “View Your Earnings and Leave Statement” link in the middle of the page.
  3. Choose the appropriate pay period in the drop-down menu.

For help interpreting the many boxes on your paystub, see How to Read Your Leave and Earnings Statement.

Note that the gross income in your paycheck is a little less than your annual income / 26 paychecks. The difference lies in the way the federal government calculates hourly rates from annual salary. The federal government divides the annual salary by 2087 hours rather than 2080 hours (26 pay periods x 80 hours) to determine hourly rates.

This is because about every 11 years or so there are 27 pay periods rather than 26 pay periods (2015 was such a year for GSA payrolled employees). Here is an article which further explains this.

Retirement

Employees at 18F are eligible to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). To start, change, or stop your contributions, you’ll need to fill out Form TSP-1.

If you ever move, you can update your address for TSP by emailing it to both the Consolidated Processing Center and the GSA Payroll Office. Payroll will notify the TSP office of your new address.

To transfer your previous retirement account into your TSP, you’ll need to fill out a Form TSP-60 for every account you want to roll over. If you need help, you can call them by dialing 1-877-968-3778. Be sure to have your TSP account number and your SSN and mailing address handy.

Note: If you have been contributing to a 401k, 403b, or a similar plan at your previous employer, your total contribution for all similar plans can not be higher than the annual limit of $18,000. The limit is not $18,000 per plan, but $18,000 in aggregate.

Training

18F team members are eligible for many professional development and training opportunities. For more information, see Pia Scott’s class.

Transit subsidies

All GSA employees are eligible for transit subsidies which cover the cost of your public transportation travel up to $130 a month. See your local office guide for more information.