Tapping the Sunshine Grapevine

Wednesday - 4/8/2009, 4:00am EDT

Would you like to wear an aloha shirt to the office (and not look like an idiot)? Many of us would. Which is why in some federal agencies they operate an unofficial Pineapple, or Sunshine, Grapevine.

The purpose of this under-the-radar info channel is to keep tabs on feds working in Hawaii. You know, their health, their habits, their age, as unofficially tracked by the colleagues with stateside connections. That data can provide clues to their mainland and lower-48 colleagues as to when a federal job opening in Hawaii may come up. Or if one pops up unexpectedly.

A fed who works at the Pentagon said the grapevine depends on unofficial eyeball-reports about the health, happiness and longevity of Army, Navy and Air Force civilians in Hawaii. An Interior retiree said there was a similar arrangement when she worked there. So keen and important is the research that newspaper obituaries and death notices are monitored in case a sudden vacancy comes up the hard way.

All of the above information is passed on to a select circle of folks with some clout and a big desire to move to Hawaii with a job awaiting them. This is made easier because when many feds retire from Alaska and Hawaii they are forced, because of money, to move back to Kansas, Iowa or wherever. So there is turnover. For two reasons:

  1. A Big Mac costs a lot more in Anchorage, Alaska than it does in Annapolis, Maryland. Or Raleigh-Durham or St. Louis.

    A can of pineapple (yes, pineapple) costs more in Honolulu than it does in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Tx; or Covington, Ky.

    Living costs for most things are generally higher than on the mainland or the lower-48.

  2. While feds in Alaska and Hawaii are paid higher salaries (with the differential tax free) than their stateside counterparts, the cost of living allowance they get isn't part of their annuity computation. That means they retire on pensions that are much, much lower - as a percentage of salary - than their colleagues who retire from non-COLA areas.

To make Alaska and Hawaii service even more attractive (if that's possible), the Senate Government Affairs Committee has passed a bill (S. 507) that would phase out the salary COLA over a three year period, and phase in locality pay for those areas. It would also provide for a buy-in that would let feds in the 49th and 50th states to bring their annuities up to a much higher level, based on their high-3 year average salary.

FERS Sick Leave Credit

The House has passed, and the Senate will take up, legislation that would let FERS employees get credit for unused sick leave at retirement. Once otherwise eligible to retire, the FERS folks could take their unused sick leave (some people have a year or more) and add it to their service time. That could be used to boost their lifetime indexed-to-inflation annuities.

At the same time the Senate looks at the FERS sick leave perk it will vote up-or-down on a proposal that would let workers under the older Civil Service Retirement System transition to part-time jobs at the end of their careers without it adversely affecting their annuity.

All of the above, plus several other pro-fed proposals, will be the subject of today's Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show here on www.federalnewsradio.com or (in the DC area) WFED 1500 AM.

Listen if you like, call in toll free at 1.877.936.9333 or in the DC area at 202.465.3080.

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Congratulations. You've made it through the week's "most stressful time." A British study finds that if you make it through 11:45 on Tuesday morning, it's all downhill from there. It would happen earlier in the week, except "Most workers coast through Monday getting their brain in gear and catching up with gossip from the weekend through social networking sites."

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com