- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Santa could turn out to be Uncle Sam this year.

The government is set to pay out about $122 million to roughly 206,000 current and former employees.

Group one consists of approximately 188,000 civil servants who were in special rate jobs such as engineers, scientists, medical staffers or GS 2 through 7 clerical workers in the Washington area from October 1982 through September 1988.

Uncle Sam short-changed those special raters, denying them all or part of general pay increases. In some cases, the back pay due them is considerable.

Barring the shouting and the payoff the back-pay case, won by the National Treasury Employees Union, is all over. NTEU and the Justice Department expect to announce the formula, and payback timetable, perhaps as early as Thursday.

For details, including eligibility information, background on the case and a sample of how the payout will work, go to https://www.nteu.org/ SPECMenu.html

Group two is made up of 22,000 mostly former feds who left $18 million sitting in their Thrift Savings Plan accounts. Both the number of people owed money and the amounts themselves have risen since our last report on the group. Officially, they are known as the "lost participants." Unofficially, they are feds with money in the bank they forgot or don't know about.

If you worked for the government anytime since the early 1980s, or if you know somebody who did, your name or their name could be on the come-get-your-money list. It's updated regularly and you can search by participant's name, state or federal agency.

You know you're going to check it out. I did (nothing!). After all, hope springs eternal. Maybe your luck is better than your memory.

To end the mystery, and your misery, check it out at: https://tsp.gov/lostpar/index.html.

Health plan help

The federal health insurance hunting season ends Dec. 10. Picking the right plan next year could save you and your family as much as $1,000 in premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Most people tend to concentrate on premiums, but benefits that's what is and isn't covered, and by how much deserve equal attention. Many of the health plans are changing benefits or benefit levels.

One of the best ways to see if your favorite health plan or the one you've been considering covers what you want is to check out the research done by the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. It has done a thorough job of checking the benefits changes of the six fee-for-service plans that cover most federal workers and nearly all retirees.

To get it you can go to https://www.narfe.org/openseason2001.html.

Couples and insurance

A married federal couple can sometimes save money on premiums if they buy two self-only plans rather than family coverage. Sometimes he may want an HMO, while she prefers a fee-for-service plan. But be careful if each of you buys single coverage in the same plan. You will save money on premiums, but if either has heavy medical bills next year, you will also have to satisfy two deductibles (for each single plan) instead of one deductible for the family plan.

Frequent flyer perk

At any given time as many as 100,000 federal and military personnel are up in the air, traveling on official business. That number could jump dramatically soon.

In the meantime, round up the frequent-flyer mileage points you've earned on official, U.S. government travel. They soon may be your ticket to a great vacation.

After years of being grounded because of legislative indifference, Congress and the White House are both behind the idea of letting federal workers, military personnel and Foreign Service officers keep and use their mileage points. Retroactively.

The House has passed its bill. The Senate put language authorizing the new perk in the Defense Authorization bill. In case it bogs down, there is a separate bill by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, waiting in the wings. President Bush favors extending the private sector-style benefit to the federal family.

One way or another, feds should be able to start using the new perk by early next year. Maybe even later this month.

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