- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

For hundreds of federal workers and military personnel, their jobs include the potential for very bad days, such as 9-11.

I spent part of last week talking with some of the Federal Aviation Administration's front-line managers and supervisors who were on duty during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington, Atlanta, Jacksonville and in other cities.

After hearing some of their stories told in matter-of-fact, how-was-your-day style at the FAA/Federal Managers Association conference in Las Vegas, any fear of flying I had is gone.

There are thousands of heroes who deserve a medal for their performances that day. From the passengers who gave their lives when forcing the hijacked plane to crash in Pennsylvania, instead of Pennsylvania Avenue, to the firefighters, cops and many civilians whose efforts need to be remembered.

When I mentioned issuing medals for their performances to one of the controller-supervisors last week, he seemed surprised. "For what?" said the man, who was "That's what we do."

What the FAA (and the military and dozens of other agencies) did that day was redirect Air Force One (and a backup plane) to a Strategic Air Command base in Nebraska, ground all civil aviation in the U.S., redirect all flights incoming from Europe or Asia to Canada and coordinate with the Air Force. Stuff like that.

I've been covering the federal beat for a long time, so I knew of the heroes in our midst. Some of my media colleagues, who last month were writing "going postal" critiques of the government, have now discovered that feds are not only human, but super-competent too.

Buyout rumor (again)

The administration plan to upgrade and streamline the civil service has pumped new life into the tired old rumor about a super-secret, super-sweet plan to pension off aging feds. The rumor has been around for decades, but it has been updated and given a new coat of gloss by feds who are mailing it to buddies all over the country.

Nancy D. a reader from the Treasury Department, asked FedManager (the online newsletter at https://www.fedmanager.com) to check it out. She said a friend had e-mailed her a news item that said Congress is nearing completion on a secret buyout-early out deal for feds hired before 1983. The idea is to get those employees, who are under the old Civil Service Retirement System, to retire by 2003 and thus allegedly "save" the government $237 million.

"Is there any factual basis to this," she asks.

Vic, my favorite Giant Food store manager (who is also a former fed) asked me the same thing.

No, Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and feds elsewhere, your employer isn't bringing you a buyout-early out gift this Christmas. Nor next. Or ever.

What's the percentage?

A reader who is obviously no better at math than I am asks what's the big deal whether the 2002 federal pay raise is 3.6 percent, as proposed by the White House, or the 4.6 percent amount favored by Congress?

The answer: Can you use an extra $50,000 to $60,000?

American Express Financial Planner Dennis Gurtz figures that an extra one percentage point raise starting next year will be worth thousands of dollars in pay, pension and benefits over the career and life of the typical fed.

In addition to the extra take-home cash, the value of the raise will compound each year, making every future raise a higher dollar amount. It will also increase the value of basic life insurance for feds, increase the dollar amount they can put in the Thrift Savings Plan and, perhaps most valuable of all, increase the lifetime value of their indexed-to-inflation annuity when they retire.

Even in death, Mr. Gurtz says, the extra pay raise will continue to be a blessing for feds who leave their husband or wife a survivor annuity.

Bottom line. Every little bit helps. In this case, a lot.

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