- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

For most members of Congress, the career-high moment comes when they are appointed chairman of a committee any committee.
But some committees like wine, cars and cheese are better than others. Being named chairman of the House committee that oversees the federal civil service is about as rewarding for most members as taking a bath with your socks on.
Face it: The chairmanship of the House Government Reform Committee doesn't have the clout or sex appeal to attract national attention or big speaking fees.
Why? It requires politicians to deal with something most of them, and most of their voters, would rather avoid: federal bureaucrats.
But the curse of that committee could change big time, now that Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, has agreed to head the committee that serves as the launchpad (or the burial ground) for most legislation dealing with federal workers and retirees.
Mr. Davis comes from a district that is chock-full of active feds and retirees. He is one of the Republican leaders of Congress and a White House favorite.
With Mr. Davis pinch-hitting (both as committee chairman and as a leader of the House majority) the White House may be a little bit more generous with pay raises.
Committees that have blocked bills giving retired feds bigger chunks of their Social Security benefits and tax breaks on health premiums now may hold hearings and allow votes with Mr. Davis looking on as a fellow chairman and Republican leader.
Last year, a record number of House members signed on to bills to modify or repeal the formulas that can reduce a civil servant's Social Security benefit (windfall) or wipe out the spousal Social Security benefit of retired feds (offset). Despite heavy lobbying and large numbers of co-sponsors, the bills went nowhere because they couldn't get out of the committee with jurisdiction.
But with Mr. Davis and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Marylander who is in the Democratic leadership, the committee now can do lots of good things for feds.
Buyouts
Look for half a dozen federal agencies to seek buyout authority from Congress. Currently, 10 agencies and departments including Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs can pay workers up to $25,000 to leave.
A buyout combined with early retirement could produce enough departures to avoid layoffs, which can cost much more than buyouts, and allow agencies to redesign their personnel structures with fresh, new and cheaper employees.
The IRS will seek a renewal of its buyout authority, which expired last year. The U.S. Postal Service is committed to downsizing its clerk-carrier work force. If it can't do it via normal attrition which it probably can't then an expanded early-out program is a must.
Although the USPS blew its buyout chances years ago when it paid people to leave, then paid people to replace them it may make another run at getting buyouts.
Back to the future
Most investors have only one set of accurate numbers to help them plot the course of a stock, bond or mutual fund. That is its past performance.
While the numbers are accurate, they are often almost useless. Where a mutual fund has been doesn't predict where it's going or when it will get there.
With that disclaimer, consider what has happened to the stock-indexed C Fund of the federal Thrift Savings Plan. The C Fund is invested in the 500 largest U.S. companies. You can track it closely (though not precisely) daily by looking at the returns for the Vanguard 500 fund.
Over the past 10 years, the C Fund on average returned just more than 9 percent a year. But a five-year snapshot shows the C Fund down an average of 0.6 percent. Zoom down to the last three years' performance and the C Fund lost 14.6 percent on average each year. Last year it lost an even 22 percent.
The only steady money makers in the TSP were the F Fund (bonds), which returned anywhere from 7.5 percent to 10.3 percent on average, and the no-risk, no-sweat G Fund (guaranteed U.S. Treasury securities), which returned 6.2 percent over a 10-year period, 5.7 percent and 5.6 percent over a five- and three-year period respectively and a flat 5 percent last year.


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