Separating the Monsters from the Straw Men

Friday - 6/3/2011, 4:00am EDT

How would you like to live in a climate where warnings of storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes - or their psychological or financial equivalents - were regular events? Could you cope?

Time out!

Don't answer, because that was sort of a trick question.

The fact is that if you are a career federal worker - whether you sort mail, take care of wounded warriors and aging veterans, collect taxes, put rockets into space or guard the borders - that's the environment you've been living in for some time now. And unless you are reading this from behind bars, curled in a fetal position under a blanket or weary from worry, you are doing alright. Still sane. Still doing your job even as politicians (when not on vacation) denounce you as an overpaid rat. Or worse!

But feds have been under siege for a long time now. And it will probably get worse before it gets better.

It started with some think tank-inspired news features with data which showed that feds get better pay, pensions, vacations, you name it, than just about anybody in the private sector. The most recent was a study showing that a large number of federal workers make more money than the governors of the states where they live. What the study showed, among other things, is that most of the high-paid feds are doctors (hello!) and that some states pay their elected officials little better than minimum wage. Possibly this is to discourage non-millionaires from seeking elective office.

Currently there are plans - some in the talking stage, some moving through Congress or the administration - to extend the pay freeze, eliminate bonuses and/or step increases, base annuities on the high-5 (instead of the high-3) average salary, increase health premiums annually for workers and retirees, reduce take-home pay by 5 percent, etc. You get the idea.

I checked with colleagues (competitors) covering the federal scene and they virtually all say the same thing. Feds are worried. And feds have a right to worry. But they are worrying about the wrong things. For instance:

Most of the e-mails and calls I get center on the proposal to switch from a high-3 to a high-5 retirement computation. It would hurt, some, if it happened. So people want to know if they will have time to retire this year before the rules change. The fact is that the high-5 is nowhere. It is a possibility but nobody in Congress or the administration, at least as of yesterday, is moving with it. More? Click here.

Of greater immediate concern, to feds and retirees, is a plan that would force FERS employees (4 out of every 5 current employees) to kick in an additional 5 percent of their pay toward their retirement. That would amount to a permanent 5 percent reduction in take home pay. An equal threat is a plan that would require workers and retirees to pay a larger share of their health premiums. Dan Adcock, of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) estimates that within 5 years that would mean you would be paying 50 percent of the premium. You now pay less than 30 percent.

And what about the plan to change the formula used to determine annual cost of living adjustments for federal/military/Social Security retirees? If enacted it would reduce future annual COLAs by about 1 percentage point each year.

For a threat assessment scorecard, click here.

On Wednesday, we talked about the threats (real and inflated) to feds on "Your Turn with Mike Causey." Participants were Jessica Klement, legislative director of the Federal Managers Association, and Steve Watkins and Steve Losey from the Federal Times. They brought us up to speed on what's happening, where it is and the likelihood of success. If you missed the show, can't listen at work or want to hear it again, click here.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


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by Suzanne Kubota

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