Worry, Yes. Panic, Not So Much...

Wednesday - 12/26/2012, 2:14am EST

Getting, keeping and prospering in a federal job isn't rocket science. But, it is also not easy and some people never master the art.

Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show, we'll talk with federal career specialist John Grobe about getting in government and getting ahead. He's also been a fed-watcher for a long time and has some advice about past, present and future threats to your job and benefits. We hope it will be helpful. We've also asked him to guest write today's column.

John, take it away...

Federal employee benefits have been threatened many times in the past. When I was a 25-year-old letter carrier, I heard about a possible change from using a high-three salary to using a high-five salary for the purposes of pension computation — that never happened.

A decade later, I heard about the retirement system being replaced by a new, less generous, one — that did happen and they called the new system, FERS (the Federal Employees Retirement System). However, myself and many others were grandfathered into the older, more generous CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System).

In 2012, we saw retirement contributions for employees who will be hired after January 1, 2013, increase from 0.8 percent of salary to 3.1 percent of salary (all current employees and those hired before Dec. 31, 2012, were grandfathered).

Today, we hear about more threats to our benefits and we hear about them more frequently due to the more rapid and repetitive dissemination of information due to the Internet. Whether the Internet is faster (or more accurate) than the old rumor mill is subject to dispute.

Some of the threats we hear of are:

  • Replacing the high-three computation with a high-five computation
  • Changing the Federal Employees Health Benefits program to a voucher system
  • Making current employees pay more for their retirement benefits (with no concomitant increase in pension)
  • Changing the CPI on which retirement COLAs are based
  • Eliminating the retirement supplement for FERS retirees under the age of 62
  • Reducing the federal workforce 10-20 percent
  • Extending the salary freeze

Is there a reason to panic? No. Congress has rarely moved quickly and decisively in changing federal benefits, and they have a history of grandfathering current employees into existing benefit systems. We will have ample time to react to proposed changes in our benefits. It is also a good bet that any changes will be prospective and will not affect benefits that we have already earned.

Is there a reason to be concerned? Probably. Federal employees have never been in the crosshairs of budget cutters as much as they are today. When politicians from both sides of the aisle suggest reductions to our benefits, it is a good thing to pay attention to what they say.

Is there a reason to be prepared? Definitely. If we investigate our options, we will be able to react quickly if any changes do, in fact, take place. We may have limited control over the changes that might confront us; but we have total control over our reaction to those changes. If we prepare in advance for any eventuality, we will be more likely to make decisions that are in our best interests than if we make a last minute decision based on an imminent change.

My book, Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees, can help us prepare for potential changes. It has tools that will assist us in analyzing the federal benefits situation (and our reaction to it) as it unfolds. It realizes that our reactions to change are based on our own individual situations and helps us understand those situations and what we can (and should) do.

John Grobe is president of Federal Career Experts.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID:

By Julia Ziegler

More Christmas tree ornaments were imported from China than any other country from January to September, 2012. The Census Bureau lists the value of those ornaments at $1.03 billion.