Old job-related nightmares resurface

Tuesday - 6/19/2012, 2:00am EDT

It's an ill wind that blows no good.

Last week my computer froze. We did the usual things, rounded up the usual suspects, etc. Nothing. Then someone (call her Julia Ziegler) suggested it might be that the keyboard had given up the ghost. We found a spare. But...

We couldn't check the wiring because it — like the rest of my desk — was covered by about three feet of paper. We had to dig out the center in order to get to the wiring.

The amassed paper consisted of press releases, lots of printed emails, articles I saved and meant to read, the usual death threats from coworkers, etc. Normal office stuff. I tossed most of it but...

Some of the stuff caught my eye. One piece of paper was a radio script saying that President-elect Obama was going to name John Berry, then the director of the National Zoo, as director of the Office of Personnel Management. That was a while back. But it gives you an idea as to the historical value in each layer of paper. Also an insight as to what the talk-of-the-town was then vs. now.

There were many references to an impending change in the federal retirement system. Of basing annuities on the high-five, rather than high-three year average salary. Lots of angst from feds. But nothing happened. It is not even on the radar.

A four-year-old press release from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees was about efforts to win congressional approval of premium-conversion for retirees. Premium conversion means that you can pay your health premium with pre-tax dollars. That lowers your taxable income and saves individuals a few hundred to nearly $1,000 a year in taxes. The Clinton administration made it available to active-duty feds, but it would take an act of Congress to extend it to federal (and nonfederal) retirees.

The press release pointed out that premium conversion was an uphill fight. Turns out, it still is...

More than that, things have changed big time in four years. Instead of premium conversion, groups like NARFE are fighting in-the-works plans to make feds and retirees pay a bigger share of their premiums. They are battling so that feds, after a two-year pay freeze, will get a miserly-but-something 0.5 percent adjustment in 2013.

Another item on my desk talked about the threat to those within-grade pay raises. The WIGs go to white-collar workers every one, two or three years depending on their time in grade and which step they are on. The 3 percent WIGs are virtually automatic (about 99 percent of eligibles get them) and they continue even during a pay freeze. That was one of the looming issues in January of this year. But it's now on the back burner.

Time, at least this year, appears to be on feds' side. Congress is working on a continuation of the pay freeze. But mostly it is in gridlock mode, meaning nothing much (good or bad) will happen. But many members are sweating the upcoming elections. They are focused on the calendar and not only their own chances, but who will be the next president. Will President Obama or presumtive challenger Mitt Romney win — or at least carry their state and district thus affecting their chances?

While there is still time for the politicians to do mischief to the federal service, the good news is that time is flying. So while it pays to stay tuned, be active and support groups that support you. It is still way too early to give up, or to retire simply because of something Congress might (but probably won't) do to your retirement package.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Both, it turns out, depending on if you ask a gardener or a chef, Life's Little Mysteries reports. Botanists consider tomatoes a fruit because it's a "seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant." But citing tomatoes' more savory flavor, chefs consider tomatoes (along with fellow botanical fruits eggplants and bell peppers) as vegetables. In 1893, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that an imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable instead of as a fruit.


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