- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

If you are considering a mini-vacation this winter, factor this into your planning: Most of the Washington area’s 300,000 federal workers will have a bonus day off on Jan. 20, a Thursday, to help reduce traffic congestion for the presidential inauguration.

The inside-the-Beltway day off with pay comes every four years, if the inauguration is held on a weekday.

Because of stepped-up security to protect tens of thousands of visitors and VIPs from around the world, emergency personnel will be on the job on Inauguration Day. Federal workers outside this area will work as usual. Details are coming from the White House and the Office of Personnel Management, but the day off for most is assured.

It is expected that the bonus day off for Washington-area civil servants will be considered as administrative leave with pay rather than a holiday, which would have meant extra pay for those who have to work.

Meantime, federal workers can look forward to dual, back-to-back three-day weekends this month. Most workers will get two Fridays off — Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. On Jan. 17, a Monday, most federal offices will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Pay raise

The president and Congress are once again eyeball to eyeball over the issue of how much of a raise white-collar federal workers will receive in January. If things go as they have every year since 1993, Congress will prevail and federal workers will get a bigger raise than budgeted by the president.

President Bush proposed a 1.5 percent raise for civilian feds in 2005. The military is set to get a 3.5 percent adjustment. As it has every year since the start of the Clinton administration, Congress has increased the amount of the civilian federal pay raise by the appropriation process. This year, it has said again that civilian feds should get the same amount — 3.5 percent — that goes to military personnel.

Last week, the president sent an alternative plan to Congress, as required by law. But if Congress insists on the higher amount, feds will get the 3.5 percent effective with the first pay period that begins on or after Jan. 1.

Annual leave

Federal workers who retire on Dec. 31 will be allowed to carry over the maximum amount of unused annual leave (vacation). Most of that unused annual leave will be paid at the new, higher rate of pay that goes into effect in January. In addition, the Dec. 31 retirees will get a tax break because the lump-sum annual leave payment they receive (at the higher January salary) will be part of their 2005 income, which in most cases will be lower than their earnings this year.

Health insurance

You have until Monday to pick your 2005 federal health plan. Washington-area civil servants and postal workers, as well as members of Congress, have about 20 plans from which to choose. They cannot be turned down because of age, health or pre-existing medical condition. Unlike most private-sector plans in companies that still offer health insurance, feds keep their coverage into retirement, for life. The government will continue to pay 72 percent of the total premium.

If you don’t pick a plan, you will retain your current health plan, which may be raising its premium. Do some homework and save yourself a bundle of money in premiums, and maybe even more if you pick a plan that limits your out-of-pocket costs.

Best buys, according to Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans ($8.95 at many area drugstores and bookstores), include most of the health maintenance organizations, such as Kaiser, MD-IPA, Aetna and CareFirst. It also recommends you check out Blue Cross standard preferred provider organization; Foreign Service PPO, Mail Handlers high deductible; Association PPO and GEHA PPO.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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