- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Federal employees in their 50s who didn't have the option of investing in 401(k) plans early in their careers could make "catch-up" payments that would make them richer if not downright rich under a bill the Senate will take up this week.
The bill, first proposed by Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, would let federal and postal employees who are age 50 and older make catch-up payments that would be exempt from contribution ceilings imposed by the IRS or by rules of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
The $100 billion TSP is Uncle Sam's 401(k) plan. Longtime employees under the old Civil Service Retirement System can invest 7 percent of their salary, and those hired since the mid-1983 under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System program can invest up to 12 percent.
Under Mrs. Morella's bill, cleared last week by the House Government Reform Committee, federal workers this year could invest an extra $1,000 tax-deferred in the TSP. The amounts would go up $1,000 each year until 2006, when workers could invest $5,000 extra that year and each future year.
The additional contributions, even if they earn a modest return, compounded over time could boost TSP account balances dramatically. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is due this week to take up similar legislation, sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican. The White House approves of the proposal.

Kick the INS Month
The remainder of March has been set aside for the media, politicians and talk show hosts to beat up on the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
But if they wanted to be fair and that's a big "if" they might realize they have had a hand in giving the Justice Department agency a split personality. INS has traditionally been a dumping ground for political types. Considering its mission and the pressure on it, its rank and file have done an excellent job in an impossible situation.
On one hand they've been told to protect the U.S borders, but especially the one with Mexico, without alienating the ever-growing Hispanic vote. They've been told to seize illegal aliens, then told not to grab them in public places, like the soccer fields near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, because that makes for bad publicity.
INS inspectors have been told to look for "suspicious types" but not to get into racial or ethnic profiling. Some of their all-important but endless (thanks to Congress) paperwork has been farmed out to private contractors who know or care nothing about the mission.
Congress sometimes wants agencies like the IRS, the INS and the CIA to be rough, ruthless and fast. Then it will shift gears and tell the IRS to cool it, the INS to stop picking on people who can't speak English and the CIA not to associate with criminal types.
All three of those agencies have been told in recent years to stop acting like Mr. Hyde and be more like that nice Dr. Jekyll. But when the stuff hits the fan (when terrorists attack and the budget surplus disappears) the agencies are berated for having lost their muscle and their instinct for the jugular.

4.1 percent pay raise
There are only about a dozen U.S. officials who still believe that in January military personnel will get a bigger raise, at 4.1 percent, than civilian federal workers. The White House last year and again this year proposed a bigger military boost. But odds of holding civilian raises to 2.6 percent next January are getting longer every day.
Federal workers have a strong political network on Capitol Hill ranging from liberals to conservatives. They have the clout and the key assignments on the Budget and Appropriations committees to get pay-raise parity each year.
Backers of parity claim that civilian federal employees are paid 32 percent less than their counterparts in industry, whereas the military are underpaid "only" 10 percent less than their counterparts. What they don't say is who in the private sector does the same things as Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, the Delta Force or submariners.


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