Vampires and a retirement offer to die for...

Wednesday - 3/20/2013, 2:00am EDT

In these days of sequestration, furloughs, pay freezes and general bureaucrat-bashing it may be time for a time out. Assume the lotus position and read on:

As a youth growing up in downtown D.C., we went to the movies (the old Pix Theater) every Saturday. It often showed triple (horror) features. In addition to our movie money, several of us carried wooden stakes (actually flimsy pointed sticks) in case we were attacked by Bela Lugosi (the original vampire) or members of his blood-thirsty tribe.

Thanks to our movie-time, we knew that the only way to kill a vampire was to drive a stake through his or her heart. It was a good lesson for kids. Would that it were that easy today.

With all of the threats — actual, potential and perceived — facing federal workers today, a decades-old myth appears to be alive and well. The infamous "Triple Nickel." It comes and goes. And now with sequestration, the vampire du jour, it has returned. With furloughs in the forecast and an extended pay freeze likely, somebody has revived an Internet urban myth tailored for frightened or frustrated federal and postal workers. The myth is this:

That Congress is "secretly" working on a bill that would encourage people to retire by giving them a large cash payment (pick-a-number), give them credit for five additional years of service and add five years to their qualifying age for retirement. When the myth was born, probably in the 1960s, it was dubbed the 5-5-5 or Triple Nickel plan: A $5,000 buyout and five years added to both your age and service time. It has since been adjusted for inflation, so in some cases the still-bogus report has boosted the original (fake) $5,000 payment to $50,000. Fake then, fake now. Yet hope springs eternal. For instance:

  • Question: "Anything new on that bill to encourage CSRS employees to retire. I think it provides for a cash payment ($25,000?) and would give the potential retiree an additional five years service time and add five years to his age. Can't see any reason Congress would not approve it, especially as they are talking about downsizing the government. Give me that option and I would leave tomorrow, if not yesterday." — Tony in San Antonio

  • Answer: No.

  • Question: "My question is relatively simple as it relates to retirement incentives. If my memory serves me well, there was a time when federal employees (under the CSRS system) were offered options of receiving five years onto their current age or five years added to their years of service for annuity-calculation purposes. Has there been or do you believe there may be such an offer as we continue down the sequestration path in 2013 or as a result of its impact to the 2014 budget process?" — V.R.

  • Answer: Again, no.

    Another passed on a "news" story with a byline, dateline and bogus bill number plus the sponsor of the bill, who is a nonexistent Arizona congressman. It too said the bill was being worked on in secret and would likely be quietly passed, and signed into law shortly. Hah!

    Unlike most rumors, some experts in the Triple Nickel myth think they know its origin. It may have been a Navy civilian employee (gender unknown) working in Florida who, for whatever reason, called different people with the "news," then spread it by mail. It caught on, because people liked the idea and wanted to believe, and by the time the Internet came along — with instant email — it was firmly in the civil service legend.

    Note to self: Wait 12 months and write another column debunking the Triple Nickel myth about this time next year. It will surely be circulating, and news that it is a fake will be news to some people.

    Additional note to self: Find that stake and sharpen it, just in case. It seems that vampires are back in style and you never know.

    Fighting furloughs, freezes

    Most federal unions have been at war with GOP members of Congress for a long time. They blame the GOP for most of the problems facing feds today. But groups that represent managers and upper-level civil servants have been taking a bipartisan approach to fend off some of the threats facing feds. So how's that going?

    Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show, Jessica Klement from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association talks about different strategic plans for dealing with Congress. Then, at 10:30 a.m. Sean Reilly and Stephen Losey from the Federal Times will provide an update on other doings on Capitol Hill and the federal sphere.