- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

Last year, like 2004, 2003, etc., was a roller coaster for many civil servants.

Some employees worried about downsizing. Would they lose their jobs because of the whims of high officials?

Others feared a federal pay freeze or, at best, a raise in the why-even-bother range.

Some were sure that Congress would cut retirement benefits.

In the end, what happened is what usually happens: not much, at least nothing serious.

Although the White House went through the motions of offering smaller raises — started in 1993 by President Clinton — feds got the bigger raise that Congress wanted.

The Bush White House suggested a 2.1 percent raise for civil servants, but Congress insisted that federal workers get the same 3.1 percent increase set for military personnel this month.

Fears of a double-digit increase in federal health insurance premiums for 2006 also failed to materialize. For the fifth consecutive year, the average increase in premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program were lower than those in the private sector.

Retirees who worried about having their January cost-of-living adjustment delayed, reduced or eliminated also came out ahead. The 4.1 percent increase for those drawing Civil Service Retirement System benefits, due in this month’s checks and payments, is the biggest in 15 years.

The small number of feds retired under the Federal Employees Retirement System plan will get a 3.1 percent adjustment on their benefits, provided they are 62 or older. The cost-of-living adjustment for CSRS retirees is payable regardless of age.

Layoffs didn’t hit federal agencies as many had feared, and the pay-for-performance systems set for the Defense and Homeland Security departments hit a series of legal roadblocks that is delaying their implementation.

Federal unions, which say the proposed changes would mean a return to the spoils system, hope to keep hobbling the merit-based pay program until a new Congress or a new occupant in the White House buries the plans.

Although nothing bad happened, new entrants and/or nervous old-timers in the civil service are about to go through it all over again. A new sum-of-all-fears game is ready to begin.

Look for the White House, again, to propose a smaller federal pay raise than the amounts outlined in the 1990 federal pay law that went into effect in 1993. Workers have never received the full amounts due them under the pay formula.

Look for some arm of Congress — maybe the Congressional Budget Office or a Republican study group — to again point out the (minimal) savings that could be made by returning the retirement payment calculation formula from the highest three-year average salary to the old high-five system. It gets dragged out and dusted off each and every year.

The odds of trimming or delaying a retiree cost-of-living adjustment remain as slim as ever.

Feds and retirees should stay tuned and be aware of what is happening and what is being proposed, even if it is far-fetched or a rerun of a plan. At the same time, they shouldn’t lose any sleep, especially when dealing with bogus but real-sounding news “stories” of pending gloom and doom that will be making their way into the e-mail in-boxes of workers.

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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