Senate “Official Office” Designations Still a Black Box

Yesterday Roll Call reported on a memorandum issued by the Senate Disbursing Office to guide Senate employees on the considerable intricacies of their health insurance situation. However, with regard to the foundational question of whether any particular employee may continue to receive health insurance through the FEHB or, conversely, must get insurance through the DC Exchange, the memo provides little guidance.

The memo advises:

OPM has stated that the designation of whether an employee is part of a Member’s “official office” is ultimately determined by the Member, unless the Member delegates that designation to the Secretary of the Senate. The Senate Disbursing Office has provided each Member with a form to make “official office” designations regarding personal, committee, and leadership staff. The Disbursing Office will confirm your individual designation status after October 31, 2013 by mail.

This sure sounds as if Senators will have the ability to designate “personal, committee, and leadership staff” as “official office” employees if they so choose. There is nothing in the memo I see to inform the exercise of this discretion or to discourage a Senator from designating all of her personal, committee and leadership staff as “official office” (or, conversely, from designating none).

Now the Roll Call story says:

Leadership staffs and committee staffs are still exempt from the exchanges, as was written into the law (by leadership and committee staffs). It is up to each office, per the Office of Personnel and Management rule stated in the memo, to determine who is qualified for this exemption.

But where does it say that leadership and committee staff are “still exempt from the exchanges”? As far as I can see, it doesn’t say that in the Disbursing Office memo and, as we have discussed, OPM didn’t say that either.

Presumably Roll Call expects that Senators will designate leadership and committee staff as “official office” only if they anticipate the staff will spend some part of the year working in the personal office or on the personal office payroll. But if this is the rule, one would expect to see it appear somewhere in writing. Usually, legal standards are not established by word of mouth or on deep background.

Of course, since Senators have the option of punting (I mean “delegating”) the “official office” designation to the Secretary of the Senate, presumably the Secretary has decided or will decide shortly how she would make the decision. Perhaps this is being communicated to Senators in some private fashion. Maybe it appears in the “official office”  designation form that each Senator has received, a document which is not being shared with Senate employees or the general public. Who knows?