And today's impending disaster is...

Friday - 10/19/2012, 2:00am EDT

For the past decade, at least, and up until about six months ago, feds and the people who cover or depend on them have been focused on major "impending" changes. Changes that were about (we thought) to take place. Changes that would alter the civil service benefits package.

Those changes — some of them legislative proposals that were just ideas in the talk stage — included requiring feds to pay more for their pension benefits and to pay a larger share of their health-insurance premiums. There was also talk of modifying the formula used to compute annuities, basing it on an employees' highest five-year average salary, instead of the current high-three formula.

What happened instead is that the White House imposed a two-year freeze on federal pay raises (which Congress recently extended). Both the White House and Congress have stated that civil servants should contribute more to their retirement system, although the amounts differ dramatically.

Now, those concerns have been swept aside by concerns of the fiscal cliff — budget and program cuts mandated by the sequestration process, which is due to start in early January unless the White House and Congress stop it. Sequestration, by most accounts, (admittedly written by people with axes to grind, assets to protect or with their own agenda) would be the worst thing to happen to government workers in decades. Tens of thousands of defense contractors would lose their jobs, according to some scenarios. Many, if not most, white-collar federal workers — from IT types to park rangers, Social Security specialists, and FBI and CIA agents — would be furloughed. Services would be curtailed or eliminated.

The good news/bad news is that every third adult (and even some precocious teenagers) in the Washington area is an expert. In something. Some — especially in Congress and within the media and think tank community — modestly own up to being experts in everything. This is comforting!

Feds who face furloughs — and their support community, which could lose jobs and paychecks — are naturally concerned. Especially by the mixed signals they are getting from the administration and Congress.

The President said sequestration would be a disaster. Administration officials have talked about major cuts and shutdowns or reduced hours at national parks. Yet the Labor Department has told private companies that might have to lay off people not to send out warning letters that are required by law. Members of Congress, who voted for or allowed sequestration to be put in place, are now warning that it could send the economy back into recession.

And, as you may have noticed, we are about to have an election in which it behooves both sides, up to a point, to both terrify and soothe us — sometimes in the same speech.

So what's likely to happen? Some veteran fed-watchers say nothing. That is, that nothing is going to happen. They believe that either the lame duck or the new Congress and the White House will pull a legislative rabbit out of the hat. That at the last minute they will reach an agreement, and sequestration will simply go away.

So what do you think?

Meantime, is anybody doing anything about the Mayan calendar?


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

A 2010 study by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute investigating the hand-washing habits at "highly trafficked public restrooms around the country," found that men were least likely to wash up at the baseball stadium. The handwashing rate there was 65 percent, according to Life's Little Mysteries.


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