Thursday, 18 October 2012

Screwed

This story popped up today....government news....and I read through it.  If I had stayed in Europe....gotten a GS job after my contractor period.....I would have joined the 2k folks affected, and owe $50k to the US government.  So here is the story.

If you come to Europe to work for the Department of Defense as a contractor.....you can work for the company for a while, and then apply to be a regular GS employee for the government.  Less pay....less benefits....better stability.  You get offered a $24k a year housing allowance, which covers your rental property and utilities.

Well....there's also this little rule.  If you came into Europe and worked for company number one, then flipped three years later to company number two, then a month later, flipped to a government job, then you aren't eligible for housing pay as a government employee.  Congress wrote the law.  A second or third or fourth job?  You lose the entitlement.  You can still work as a GS employee, with base pay....but no housing (a loss of $24k a year).

This funny rule?  Who knows about it?  Apparently, not a lot of government HR folks.

So last year, some government employee had wanted to use an option.  He had done his three years and volunteered for a fourth year.....which means you get a free trip to the states.  The local HR shop reviewed his records.  Yes, he was eligible for that.  However, they found that he'd worked for at least two contractor companies before arriving at the government job.  He needed to pay back the housing money they'd paid.

Naturally, the guy got upset....got a lawyer, and eventually....lawyers at Stuttgart (for EUCOM)....got involved.  The general eventually asked how many government employees in Europe (England, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Germany, etc)....were affected.  The HR guys fanned out.  2k total.

This week....a note went out to highlight where exactly this mess stands.  It worries folks.

EUCOM would like to find a way to let folks keep the money that they got paid, for housing.  The law didn't mention a waiver.  So they'd have to write a waiver, and get the four-star to sign, then forward to the Pentagon, and get them to sign off.  No one went out to cheat the government.....so it makes sense for everyone to sign....but it could take months before they agree on this.  That's waiver number one.

Then you come to this odd situation. The law dictates that you can't have housing pay under these circumstances.  So EUCOM wants a second wavier that would allow folks to get (even if they aren't supposed to get the housing deal)....another twelve months of housing money.  Course, they'd lose the money after that, and they'd have to make it off their base pay.

Folks are a bit upset and talking lawyer-talk.  Class-action suite?  Yeah....maybe.

Me?  If I had stayed....I'd be worried because I''d owe over $40k at this point.

Folks thinking of leaving?  Out of the 2k....I suspect that 500 are talking a good bit over leaving by early spring.  The delay in signing off wavier number one might be enough to worry folks.  Coming back?  Well....you'd have to stay twelve months in the US....before you could apply for another job.

Affecting only Europe Americans?  Well....no.  I did some checking and there are lots of Americans in the Pacific theater who have the same problem.  So any waiver that they think about....has lots of other implications.

What they might get out of waiver two?  If they were considering a mass pull-out of GI's in Europe....this second waiver would buy them the time before that occurred.  The odds of a mass pull-out?  Well....until sequestration came to be discussed....there wasn't much talk.  Now?  There might be some massive draw-down which fits into this mess.

You just don't know.

I worked around twenty folks who all got GS jobs in the last three years there in the Ramstein area. Half are affected by this.  I'm guessing they are adding up the cost and how they could make it off strictly the base pay deal.  The final result?  I'm guessing they'd each say....screwed.