- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The White House plan to substitute the government's "being there" length-of-service rules with a pay-for-performance system could make political bedfellows out of a Washington odd couple: federal union leaders and key congressional Republicans.
Federal unions whose leaders are serious and unabashed Democrats don't like pay-for-performance. They say it gives bosses too much leeway to play favorites. They say the current system (whereby workers get automatic longevity raises of 3 percent every one, two or three years) was designed to reward steady employees and insulate them from vindictive bosses.
Congressional Republicans who care about the civil service and there are a goodly number don't believe in governmentwide changes. They liken it to hunting a fly with a shotgun. They prefer agency-specific concepts such as authorizing buyouts for agencies that can prove they need them (such as Defense) but not for agencies that can't make the case.
A top House aide pointed out that one in four civil servants works in an agency or program that has been exempted from many of the protections (such as guaranteed pay raises and layoff rules) available to most other government employees.
"Maybe we [Congress] can take it out on the Immigration and Naturalization Service when we split it by making it easier to fire INS employees who mess up," a House staffer said. "If the easier firing procedures work in the 'new' INS, other agencies might make a case."

Check eaters
With the congressional-action clock ticking, backers of bills to modify the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset laws are looking for a fast route to the White House.
The windfall formula can reduce the Social Security benefit earned by a retired fed (or teacher or other public employee) as much as $270 per month. The offset formula can eliminate the spousal Social Security benefit of a retired fed.
Bills to modify both formulas to allow retirees to keep more of their combined benefits have lots of backing but not enough votes to win passage on their own. That's why lobbyists are looking for veto-proof bills (such as the upcoming appropriations package) as the vehicle for windfall and offset modification.

Makeup 401(k) contributions
Key members of Congress, including tax-writing committees and the White House, have signed off on legislation that would let feds who are 50 and older make $1,000 to $5,000 catch-up payments to their Thrift Savings Plan. Private-sector employees can do it, but Congress will have to approve the perk for feds.
So with the big-time backing for the bill, introduced by Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, and Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, what's the holdup? After all, the proposal would benefit members of Congress and congressional aides who belong to the savings plan, too.
Insiders say the proposal may have hit a fiscal speedup that could slow, if not derail, the plan. Stay tuned.

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