The Fear Factor

Thursday - 10/30/2008, 4:00am EDT

A month ago many federal workers were sweating out the possibility that they would be furloughed starting Oct. 1. They wanted to know how long the furloughs would last and would they eventually get paid when they returned to work. Their fears were based on the fact that Congress had not (still hasn't) approved most agency budgets for the new fiscal year. But the furlough didn't happen. Here's why: click here.

More recently many readers have asked about rumors that Congress was going to force feds under the CSRS retirement system to convert to FERS or retire. That also didn't happen. It's a rumor that surfaces every year.

There was also talk that the 2009 federal pay raise might be scrapped or reduced. Some retirees (who are getting a 5.8 percent COLA in January) feared their increase was on the rocks.

Now with the world's longest political campaign about to conclude, the fed fear de jour centers on speculation as to what the next president will do with their agency, its programs and most importantly, their jobs.

Both have talked about getting rid of programs that don't work and of going over the budget line-by-line. And that may or may not happen. It is standard boilerplate language used by all candidates in the last dozen presidential elections. Even if the winner follows up on what he promised, we still don't know how that will play out. Events - like the surprise stock market meltdown, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack - will shape things more than political promises.

Bear in mind when President Reagan took office, most "experts" predicted that the government would be cut to the bone. And that made sense. But it didn't work out that way. In fact the number of feds nationwide, and here in DC (especially in the Defense establishment,) grew. A lot.

When President Clinton took office, federal union leaders rejoiced. They expected a big jump in federal employment and membership and a big drop in contracting out activities. In fact the president eliminated (through layoffs and buyouts) about 250,000 federal jobs. Mostly on the Defense side.

Who knew?

Who knows?

There may well be a major overhaul of government. But anybody who predicts what's going to happen - whether it will grow, shrink or reinvent itself - is likely to be proven wrong.

Meantime, reader Ralph N. (not THAT Ralph N!) says he's found a way to minimize his job-related worry time. "I keep a Fear Factor Diary. At least once a week I write down what I've heard coworkers are saying about retirement, layoffs, furloughs, the stock market, etc. Rereading it a month or a year later shows me how unfounded most of our fears are."

Pay Raises

The January white collar federal pay raise has been set at 3.9 percent. That's official. If the president follows past practice he will earmark 1 percent of that raise for locality pay adjustments. That means workers in some cities will get a raise larger than 3.9 percent. And some will get less. The exact amounts are still being determined.

Nearly Useless Factoid

From the "Silver Lining" files: National Geographic reports there may be an upside if global warming increases hurricane intensity. The superstorms would bring salt farther inland which would benefit salt-deprived ants.

Of course, during the storms, they'd be like that misheard Bob Dylan song... "The ants are my friends. They're blowin' in the wind."

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com

Tags: P&B, MC