- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

It seems like only yesterday in fact it was around Labor Day when the greatest fear and concern of Americans (according to the media, anyhow) was being attacked by a shark.
The Pentagon was focused on downsizing, eliminating more bases and dumping civil service jobs (in favor of outside contractors such as the "crack" rent-a-security teams they provided at airports).
What a difference a day like Sept. 11 makes.
Uncle Sam has done a 180-degree turnaround. The first of what could be thousands of retired and former feds have been returned to duty for the 911 emergency rehire program. It's designed to get people with language, security, logistics, computer and money-tracking skills back on the payroll. In record time.
The new/old employees who are already performing tasks for Defense and the CIA are naturals. They know the ropes, know the system, have security clearances and are U.S. citizens.
A government that once spent tons of money ($25,000 buyouts to 200,000 workers you do the math) is now looking for hundreds, maybe thousands of people with the skills to respond to what the government is calling the "events of Sept. 11." In other words, the biggest, loudest and most necessary 911 call in history.
Former congressional doves are advocating that the CIA develop the skills, which it had before being defanged by Congress, to infiltrate terrorist groups (even if it means associating with not-so-nice people), track them and "take out" dangerous leaders.
Backers of amnesty programs and anti-profilers are demanding that suspicious types (we know what that means) be watched, detained, deported, whatever.
Politicians from both parties are demanding a bigger CIA, a bigger FBI. They want more eyes at the nation's satellite spy agency and more ears at the National Security Agency.
The extraordinary rehire program the government has started permits selected agencies to offer former feds jobs ranging from 30 to 365 days in the 911 response program. Those who took buyouts which normally must be repaid if they return to government within five years can get waivers in some cases.
Re-employed annuitants retirees brought back to government service can now be allowed to keep both their temporary civil service salaries and their civil service retirement benefits.
All federal agencies can bring people back to support their part of the Sept. 11 response program, but only a handful as of now have the buyout and dual compensation waiver authority.
In this instance, the federal government is moving faster and will definitely get better people than private sector firms that go on a crash hiring program. The government has set up an e-mail inquiry (www.patriot@opm.gov) slot where former feds can get information.
It has also established a hot line (888/353-9447) for "former federal employees to centralize the inquiries received at OPM."
The government is working with a "smart" short form. It's a one-page document called the "Federal Re-Employment Readiness Sheet." It asks name, social security number, former federal job experience. The idea is to help agencies cull out potential hires from applicants who are long on enthusiasm but short on the needed skills.

Health plan's health
The Oct. 18 House hearings on premium increases in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program should be more than the typical congressional dog-and-pony inquiry. Premiums in the FEHBP (the nation's biggest and best company health plan) have gone up nearly 50 percent in five years.
Although Uncle Sam picks up the lion's share of premiums for both workers and retirees (70 percent to 75 percent of premiums) the increases hurt lower-income workers and retirees. Next year the average increase is 13 percent, but popular plans like Blue Cross will go up 17 percent to 20 percent.
The upcoming price-increase hearing, by the House Civil Service subcommittee, could be tougher than regular exams. It will be conducted by Chairman Dave Weldon, Florida Republican.
Like other feds, Mr. Weldon is eligible for the FEHBP. He pays the same premiums others do. He also represents a district with a lot of very vocal federal retirees. And he's a medical doctor.
The FEHBP covers 9 million people, including nearly half the population of metro Washington.

Economic jump start
Tourism, one of the biggest money makers for the Washington area, is in the tank. But maybe not for long. How does the prospect of 27,000 incoming tourists grab you?
These are the kind of people who will do their business, see the city and spend money. Lots of money. And send a big message to the nation that Washington continues to be a good place to visit.
The Association of the United States Army (a nonprofit that boosts the Army "family" idea) will hold its 47th annual meeting here Oct. 15 to 17. Just over 27,000 people are registered.
It should be a big media event for a couple of reasons. First, something this big is happening (at the Wardman Park and Shoreham hotels) so soon after the attack on the Pentagon. Second, it will bring in thousands of people, family members, vendors, etc.
Last year at the AUSA, the Army announced its plan to move to black berets for all its personnel. The year before came the announcement that the Army was considering moving from treads to wheels for tanks and similar vehicles.

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