March Sadness on Capitol Hill

Tuesday - 3/8/2011, 4:00am EST

For politicians who think the vast majority of federal workers are unresponsive, overpaid, underworked easy riders on a bloated bureaucracy, March is the cruelest month.

This month is a favorite time for groups representing rank-and-file feds, managers and supervisors, executive and retirees to come to Washington and fan out on Capitol Hill. And get some newspaper ink and TV time, except this time they get to tell their side of the story.

Last week the American Federation of Government Employees got lots of local and national press by setting up informational picket lines in front of about 90 Social Security offices around the country. Union members warned of proposed budget cuts that could force 20-plus days of furloughs of the people who process new applications and pay and update records of the one in six Americans who get a Social Security benefit.

The National Treasury Employees Union had a highly-successful legislative rally here last week with key members of Congress singing the praises of government service, from Defense and Homeland Security to medical services, and what they said is the illogical plan to cut funds and staff from the IRS at a time when Uncle Sam is borrowing from China to make ends meet.

This week the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association has grassroots leaders in town swarming Capitol Hill. Many of the retirees are very politically active (and very numerous in many congressional districts) and they have arranged face-time with key members of the House and Senate. Among other things, the retirees will remind Congress that they didn't get a cost of living adjustment this year or last.

With Congress about to consider a number of reductions in federal budgets and benefits, the timing of these face-to-face meetings with hometown voters - not paid lobbyists - couldn't be better.

Tracking Your Leave

If you are like me and you want to check on how much vacation time you have left, I ask Suzanne. She yells the question across the room to Julia. Julia then calls Gabriel upstairs in corporate. In short order, usually about three days, I get my response. Works for me! But...

If you are in a hurry and are married to your BlackBerry or other smartphone you may want to checkout a new service being offered by GEICO that allows you to track your annual and sick leave and comp time via your phone. Fans of the system say it saves a lot of time. Although GEICO is a fine outfit, and is one of our sponsors, I don't see how this new leave tracking system trumps the human touch. The tried-and-true Mike to Suzanne to Julia to Gabriel back to Julia, then Suzanne and back to me, usually in less than 72 hours. But this new-fangled thing appeals to you, click here. And lots of luck!!!

Retiree Withholding Options

The change in 2011 federal tax withholding rates had the effect (combined with higher health premiums) of reducing many annuity checks from $10 to $50-plus dollars per month. Yesterday's column explained the situation and how, if you want to change your rate, to boost your check. The downside, of course, is that in doing it you might wind up owing more taxes next year.

Meantime, here are some other options being pondered by one retiree reader:

    "Hope all is well. Thank you for doing such a great job of keeping us retired Feds informed. I am one of those retired Feds who had a reduction in my annuity check due to the new/old tax code. It will be interesting over the next two years since my annuity check will continue to go down due to higher medical payment costs, higher inflation, and no future colas anticipated. So, that means if I want to keep my income level the same I could do a readjustment of my withholdings deductions, which would probably mean I would have to pay more to the IRS at the end of the year. Or, I could get a part time job to make up the difference, or I could cut out some of the extras I have to make my so-called life much easier. Like cable TV, the internet, cell phone service, or trips to Starbucks. Seems to me when I start cutting out some of these so-called life pleasures it will be not only effecting me, but a whole lot of other businesses that employ many people. Of course, Lord forbid a CEO of one of these companies I may cut out, that he/she doesn't get their ten million dollar bonus this year. This just shows in a little way the ripple effect of Federal retirees not getting a cola, somethin's gotta give." Bob Lomax, Retired in Delaware & Fishing For My Food!