The good old days for feds - both of them!

Thursday - 4/14/2011, 5:46pm EDT

If you are a federal worker longing for the good old days, try to burn last weekend into your memory. Savor Saturday and Sunday. That may be as good as it gets for awhile.

To protect your sanity and recall happier times, remember how good (relatively speaking) you felt last weekend. Knowing among other things that you had a job to go to on Monday. Or that you could take a paid vacation.

After months of political threats to pay, pensions, benefits and job security, and after weeks of being the butt of late night TV hosts, you could relax. For, as it turns out, maybe two days.

Better than nothing. But not much better.

Feds emerged from the tentative budget deal (scheduled for a vote today) with their within-grade pay raises intact. The original plan had been to scuttle those three percent, semi-automatic adjustments that would go to workers every one, two or three years despite the on-going two-year pay freeze.

Instead, Congress has tenatively opted for an overall cut of 0.2 percent in across the board spending. Defense, which is in line for more money, would be exempt from the cuts.

But on our Your Turn radio show yesterday, Federal Times editor Steve Watkins said that within-grade raises - worth $1.5 billion per year to employees - will still be on a congressional hit list. To listen to that show, click here.

The President proposed the two-year pay freeze. His deficit reduction commission recommended a three-year freeze and some House Republicans want to make it a mini-ice age that would last five years. Given the political mood, feds might be "lucky" to have to endure a pay freeze lasting only three years.

On the table are serious proposals to cut federal employment by 200,000 (about 1 in every 10 non-postal jobs) and to limit cost of living adjustments to federal and postal retirees who are age 62 and older.

Under the old Civil Service Retirement System, which covers most current retirees, COLAs are paid at any age, even if the individual retired as early as his or her mid-40s. Workers under the FERS retirement system, which covers most people still on the job, get reduced. Their "diet COLAs" don't start until they are 62.

Federal/military/social security retirees haven't received COLAs for two years. But the rising price of gasoline and food makes it likely they will be getting an inflation adjustment next January. Unless Congress blocks it (unlikely) or changes the formula to produce what it says are more realistic (read "smaller") COLAs in the future.

With White House cooperation, at least some of the cuts proposed by the president's deficit reduction commission are likely to sail through Congress.

Meantime, cherish the good old days. They seem like only yesterday, when in fact they were actually four days ago!

Color-Coded Contractors

Yesterday's column proposed color-coded arm bands for federal workers. The bands would come in handy next time Congress considers a government shutdown. When faced with a shutdown last week the White House said 800,000 non-postal workers would be furloughed. But many workers were not aware whether they would be working or sent home. The arm bands would identify those who would work because their jobs are considered essential, those who would not work because they are not considered essential and, the third category, those who would work even though their jobs are not considered essential.

In addition to 800,000 furloughed feds, an even greater number of government contractors would be impacted by any shutdown. And unlike the feds, who might eventually get paid for not working, the contractors would have to eat the furlough.

To that end Stan G. of Gaithersburg says that he and his fellow government contractors also deserve arm-bands that would show their status during a furlough. He suggested the colors for contractors would be GOLD (since they are rolling in money!!!), PLUM for those who are funded by prior-year appropriations, and PINK for those that will get paid anyway!!!


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By Julia Ziegler
Danny DeVito was once a hairdresser and Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter before making it big. Check out Zimbio.com for more of your favorite celebrities pre-Hollywood gigs.
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