- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The bill to allow 50-plus feds to make catch-up contributions to their federal 401(k) plan has hit a Capitol Hill speed bump which could become a solid road block.
At issue, all of a sudden, is the estimated $200 million to $400 million in catch-up contributions federal and military investors aged 50 and over would put into their tax-deferred Thrift Savings Plan.
The catch-up bills by Rep. Constance Morella, Maryland Republican, and Sens. Daniel Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and John Warner, Virginia Republican, would put feds on a par with a tax break already available to private sector 401(k) investors. Feds would be allowed to invest an extra $1,000 this year, $2,000 next year and so on until 2006, when they could put an extra $5,000 tax-deferred in the TSP.
Mrs. Morella cleared the catch-up contributions bill with congressional leaders and the Joint Committee on Taxation, and that clearance was made public in the Congressional Record. The catch-up plan is popular on Capitol Hill and the White House cleared it.
Recently, however, the Congressional Budget Office has raised the revenue-deferred issue, and that has put a hold on the bill.
Whether it's a detour or a permanent roadblock depends on the outcome of behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place now.

OPM white paper on pay
The Office of Personnel Management says I jumped the gun in last week's report about a new white paper on federal pay. The white paper says the federal pay system is outdated and in need of an overhaul. But it is not, officials stress, an official proposal.
Instead, it's designed to provoke what one official said is an "energetic dialogue on the entire federal compensation and classification system."
The report "A Fresh Start for Federal Pay: The Case for Modernization" is available at www.opm.gov

The INS twins
Current and future employees of the new Immigration and Naturalization Service dodged a big bullet when the House voted to split the agency into two parts. One will handle law enforcement, while the other will help immigrants with their problems.
Some members of Congress angry over INS miscues (some caused by congressional mandates) wanted to take the new agencies out from under various civil service protections as in make it much easier to fire people.
One problem: Some of the biggest, headline-grabbing "errors" made by the INS weren't made by the INS. For instance, the letters OKing the visas of some of the World Trade Center terrorists were processed and mailed by a private contractor in Kentucky, not the INS in Washington.

Long term care update
For younger (40 years old and under) and healthy federal workers, the new Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program may not be the best deal.
Many of them will find they can get comparable coverage at a lower monthly premium from one of the large companies that handle LTC. One thing feds should do is check out the premiums calculator offered by the Office of Personnel Management on the internet. It's at:
https://www.opm.gov/insure/ltc/index.htm#premiums
But for older feds, and especially for retirees military and civilian and their spouses, the federal program is a blessing if they can get in. First they must answer more questions about their health and habits than regular employees or military personnel.
The OPM homepage is their best source of information. But since many retirees don't do computers, their next best bet is to check with the Alexandria based National Association of Retired Federal Employees (for civilians) and the Retired Officers Association, or American Legion, for military personnel.
Retirees can also call this number Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. 1-800-582-3337.


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