Charlie Sheen & Federal Pension Payments

Monday - 3/7/2011, 4:00am EST

Two of the hottest items in America today are Charlie Sheen's Twitter account revelations and the 1-800 number set up by the government to deal with puzzled or angry federal and postal retirees.

(If you don't know whether Charlie Sheen is a person or a brand of auto wax, ask your son, daughter or a the person in your office who uses styling gel or mousse to produce pointed hair. Also, if you lamely associate "Twitter" with the other thing birds do, ask your grandchildren to lead you to and then through the new valley of internet knowledge.)

(From thesmokinggun.com, March 2, 2011.)

What happened to Mr. Sheen is still being uncovered. But it is complex, complicated and (if you can sympathize with someone who pulls down $1.8 million per weekly TV show,) also probably very sad.

What happened to the retirees annuity payments (they dropped $10 to $50 per month this year) is also complex, complicated and sad in a very different way. What happened to the retirees (and lots of other taxpayers too) is this:

Federal tax withholding rates changed in 2011. Most retirees spotted this in the February monthly annuity payments, most of which are made by electronic transfer. That's when the stuff hit the fan, and stunned retirees flooded the telephone lines on Capitol Hill and at the IRS and Office of Personnel Management. The lame duck Congress was partly to blame because it waited until the last minute to advise the IRS whether to use new or 2010 tax rate tables.

Bottom line: The National Active and Retired Federal Employees explained that, due to a high call volume, OPM has established a new Tax Hotline that retirees can call to change their federal income tax withholding for future 2011 annuity payments. Additional withholding because of the new 2011 tables and higher health premiums for many retirees resulted in smaller monthly payments.

Bottom line No. 2: There will not be any "refund" to individuals whose monthly payments were reduced. But if they take action, by calling the new OPM number (which incidentally is swamped with calls) they can increase their take home by changing their withholding status. But nothing will happen unless you act. For full details, click here.

The role of the lame duck Congress in Mr. Sheen's current difficulties is hard to pin down. But given what Congress has, and mostly hasn't, been doing over the past few years - it probably shares some of the blame. After all, highly-paid TV stars don't get into trouble all by themselves. Right?

Reserve & National Guard Rules

In many communities, federal and postal workers make up a large proportion of both National Guard and Reserve units. Many of them have been deployed, some up to three times, to Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Balkans. Many federal agencies, Defense and VA for obvious reasons, do a good job in protecting the careers of workers who are called to active duty. Some other federal agencies and private employers aren't not so good.

To get a handle on the situation, Defense will survey agencies and businesses to find out what can be done to improve things when reserve and guard personnel return from extended deployments. As in do they miss out on promotions, etc? For more on the program go to the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve's website, www.esgr.net.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Guinness World Records has confirmed a new record for the fastest time to reach 1 million followers on Twitter is 25 hours 17 minutes, achieved by Charlie Sheen between 1-2 March 2011.


MORE FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

SSA IG: contract security guards lacking
Other headlines from this morning's Federal Newscast include: GAO makes another union move; Multiple 'unknowns' to be buried in Arlington; FBI, Secret Service duke it out on the ice.

How to financially survive a shutdown
Strategies for living through a shutdown aren't all that different from your usual financial survival plans. Here are some tips.

How are agencies preparing for a potential shutdown?
Federal News Radio surveyed 10 large agencies to find out how the continuing resolution is affecting their operations.