Life in the bullseye. So, what's next?

Tuesday - 2/21/2012, 2:00am EST

After 18 months of partisan and political gridlock, numerous mini-and-extended vacations, and generally disappointing voters, Congress finally got its act together last week. Just before it took a break honoring George Washington. It's what he would have wanted, right?

So action at least. Great, right? Or not ...

For more than a year, experts (real and self-appointed) have called for Congress to do something. Starting with its job basics. They have pointed out that Congress is at an all-time low in public-opinion polls and that anything would be better than what it had been doing, which is not much. Other "experts" predicted that action by Congress — especially last-minute, in-haste movements — is not necessarily a good thing. Not what our forefathers and foremothers had in mind.

Especially for groups like federal workers who find themselves in the political-fiscal bullseye in an election year.

Last year was a period when half a dozen blue-ribbon presidential commissions, panels, executive-legislative groups and then supercommittees looked for ways to reduce the deficit. They came out with dozens of fixes in the federal pay and benefits arena. None even came close to action, except for the two-year federal pay freeze imposed by the White House.

Nervous feds have read about proposals to force them to pay higher health premiums, take reduced pensions, get smaller annuities in the future and live with reduced cost-of-living adjustments in the future. But nothing happened. Until last week ...

Operating at the congressional version of warp speed, the House and Senate last week agreed to cut costs by boosting the contribution rate workers must pay into the Federal Employees Retirement System. FERS replaced the older (more generous and more costly to workers) CSRS system in the mid 1980s. People hired since then have come in under FERS.

What Congress did was to boost the retirement contribution for new FERS hires (people who join the system after this year) from 0.8 percent to 3.1 percent. The increase would be phased in over three years. That will take place next year even as health insurance premiums are certain to rise, and the 0.5 percent pay raise President Obama has proposed is far from certain.

The good news for current feds under the FERS or CSRS systems is that their benefits have not been touched. The bad news is that this is probably not over.

Some members of Congress and the administration also want to raise contributions for current workers — dramatically boosting and accelerating the revenue flow — and to eliminate the so-called FERS Social Security supplement. That can be a five figure government payment for employees who voluntarily retire early — before age 62. The administration supports that change.

Key members of Congress believe the federal retirement program should give up more benefits. They would like to see retirement payments based on the employees' highest five-year average salary (not the current high-three) formula. And they would like current CSRS and FERS employees to pay a bigger portion of their retirement benefits.

So, is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? Tomorrow on our Your Turn radio show at 10 a.m., we'll talk with Stephen Losey and Sean Reilly of the Federal Times about what happened last week, what may be ahead, plus the status of the U.S. Postal Service and government reorganization. Also, a surprise report on the federal Thrift Savings Plan.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.

To reach me, mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Want to know where to find the world's largest KFC logo? Life's Little Mysteries reports that an 87,500-square-foot image of the bespectacled Colonel Sanders in Nevada is visible from space (and visible on Google Earth at coordinates 37.646163 N, 115.750819 W)


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