- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

In Washington, the title of a proposal can be as important as the plan itself. Pin a silly or unattractive moniker on your opponent’s idea and you are halfway home. The idea is to make your plan look noble and your opponent’s look either evil or stupid.

With that in mind, consider your taxes. If you like the idea of privatization, of making government more like a business, you should support the IRS’ born-again Debt Collection Program.

If you worry about outsiders getting their hands on your private data (and maybe your bank account), then you call it the Bounty Hunter program.

Same thing. Different labels.

A decade ago the government tried, then dropped, a program that allowed private debt collectors to go after money Uncle Sam couldn’t collect.

Some of the debt collectors, supplied with names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other data supplied by the IRS, played real hardball. Often they were dealing with deadbeats, who, many would say, deserve little mercy. But sometimes the IRS and the collectors got it wrong. Or hammered people who simply couldn’t pay.

Result: Complaints to Congress, the FTC, etc. The program was dropped, but the aftermath contributed to Congress forcing the IRS itself to be nicer, less aggressive and more customer-oriented.

But the debt collections program is back. And the debt collectors will get 25 percent of the amount (which potentially is billions of dollars) they collect. That’s an incentive to be very persistent.

Congress has given it the green light and a federal judge recently ruled that the IRS was being too picky in the process it is using to decide which debt collection/junk yard dogs (pick your own label) it will use. The IRS wants to stick with firms that already collect other federal debt. An outside outfit convinced the judge that all firms should have a shot.

Paying your full share of taxes, on time, is always a good thing. But maybe now more than ever.

Pay raise

Pro-fed politicians of both parties, in both the House and Senate, are legislatively boxing the White House in on the federal pay issue. They plan to put a guaranteed 3.1 percent January white-collar pay raise in a veto-proof appropriations bill. That would trump the 2.3 percent raise the president proposed for civilians. Whatever the outcome, military personnel will get a 3.1 percent raise in January.

Federal and military retirees whose benefits are tied to the cost of living, not politics, are assured a 2.7 percent raise in January. If that cost goes up between now and October the retiree raise will go up with it.

Outside money to TSP

Lots of calls from active feds and retirees about the new L-fund, and about transferring outside IRA and 401(k) plan funds into the federal Thrift Savings Plan.

First the L-fund:

• The L stands for “life cycle.” It is a portfolio rather than a fund. It’s optional. It’s coming in August. If you sign up it will automatically allocate, then regularly readjust your portfolio among the stock index funds, the bond fund and the Treasury fund. Retirees who kept their TSP accounts can participate in the L-fund on the same basis as active-duty workers.

• Feds, as first reported here, have transferred nearly $1 billion in outside IRA and 401(k) plan funds to the TSP. So, yes, it can and is being done all the time.

Retirees can do it, too, if they have a TSP account, that is if they kept their account when they retired. But if they didn’t have an account, or closed it when they retired, they cannot rejoin the TSP and take advantage of any of its existing funds, the upcoming L-fund or the transfer-in option.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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