- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

A mischievous great-great-great-grandfather of mine reportedly once convinced neighbors in a tiny town near Cincinnati that the end was near — like within a couple of weeks.

Some of the more pious/gullible sold their worldly goods, told off their bosses and climbed the nearest hill awaiting Judgment Day. My distant relative, according to family lore, retired to a nearby tavern.

When it became clear that the end hadn’t happened, he was strongly encouraged to leave the area. He did.

But I often think his spirit lives on in government where a handful of people, year after year, have spread a civil-service version of the-end-is-near prediction.

In good times and bad times, but mostly in good times, feds are visited by a horrific report that Congress, the president or somebody with clout is going to sink the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

Although the federal retirement program was replaced in the mid-1980s by a plan that is more akin to those in the private sector, more than 600,000 feds who are still on the job are under CSRS. It offers employees a guaranteed annuity, fully indexed to inflation, based on their highest three-year average salary and the number of years worked.

A longtime fed could acquire a starting annuity that equals roughly 80 percent of final salary. That is supplemented each year by a cost-of-living adjustment that was worth 4.1 percent this year.

The number of CSRS workers decreases each year as more of them hit the minimum retirement age (55 with 30 years, 60 with 20 years or 62 with five years) or get an early retirement offer (50 with 20 years or any age with 25 years of service).

As the group dwindles, it becomes a smaller target for budget cutters, who have never made a serious effort to eliminate it. Still, horror stories tailored to look like the real thing frighten some active and retired feds.

Rumors of the demise of the CSRS program have been around since the 1960s. Most have a deadline that shifts as the date passes. Had my great-great-great-grandfather been able to revise his prediction each year, I might have gone to an Ohio college with in-state tuition.

On Friday, the following end-is-near e-mail arrived from an employee of Treasury’s Financial Management Service. She says, “The rumor mill is circulating the following: By the year 2010, CSRS will no longer exist. Employees under it will be able to keep what they’ve earned, but ride out their remaining years under the newer retirement plan.”

Except for the dates, this is ancient stuff, so feds should stop passing along the rumor lest some lawmaker latch on to the concept.

• 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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