- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Many rank-and-file feds (not just their pro-Democratic union leaders) see the debate over the proposed Department of Homeland Security as critical to their job survival.
The Bush administration wants the maximum management "flexibility" within the DHS. That would include making it easier to hire, discipline, set pay rates and fire employees.
"I can see it as an argument for a new terror-fighting agency," writes a Vietnam veteran who works for Uncle Sam. "But I'm concerned that this is the foot-in-the-door and if they get [exemption from certain civil services rules] other agencies are next."
A retired Drug Enforcement Administration employee says "to me this illustrates the utter contempt the administration has for federal employees. It is saying it can't get the job done with the kind of people current civil service rules attract and protect."

Open seasons
Federal workers and retirees considering insurance options must feel something like wild game during hunting season.
Both groups are in the midst of an "open-enrollment period" for the federal long-term care insurance program, and soon also will have to pick their 2003 health plans.
The long-term care enrollment runs through Dec. 31. Feds who are contemplating retiring this year should seriously consider signing up now. Once they are retired, it will be tougher to qualify for the coverage.
The health plan open season, as usual, will run from mid-November to early December. Don't miss or ignore it. Here's why:
Many health maintenance organizations will be dropping out of the federal program. HMOs are the health plans of choice, especially for younger, fit feds who like the idea of managed care, and the superior maternity and dental benefits offered by many HMOs.
Also, Blue Cross-Blue Shield is (again) warning it might have to drop out of the federal program.
The Blues plan is the No. 1 choice of retirees, and it is the biggest plan in the federal program.
If BC-BS ever pulled out, there would be a mad scramble for hundreds of thousands of people to find a new health plan. The closest to the BC-BS plan today is the highly regarded, but smaller and lesser known, Government Employees Hospital Association.
Last, but not least, premiums are going up.

Divorce, civil service style
If your ex is a current or retired CIA agent, a Justice Department computer type, postal clerk or other member of the federal family, you may be eligible for lifetime health insurance at group rates.
Tens of thousands of former spouses of feds belong to the federal health program. Although they pay the full premium (that is the employee and government share) for coverage, they are lucky to be eligible for life for the excellent group plan.
Generally speaking, to be eligible there must be a court order as part of the divorce settlement that stipulates the former spouse is entitled to coverage. Some oft-married feds have more than one ex participating in the federal health plan. Which gives a new twist to the term group rates.

Federal pay cuts
In this country, federal workers are seeking pay parity with the private sector. Government data rejected by both the Clinton and Bush administrations show civil servants earning an average of 23 percent less than their counterparts in industry. But that's here.
Last week, National Public Radio reported that the government of Japan, in order to equalize federal versus private-sector pay, ordered a 2 percent pay cut for the Japanese feds. It said the money would save about $2 billion and bring the government in line with the private sector.
Next stop: The government will consider cutting retirement benefits for government employees.

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