- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Inflation watchers, the federal and private-sector pros who monitor the cost of living, must go nuts when they hear that the Senate has voted itself a 2.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

Congress doesn’t do pay raises — that would rile the voters — but it can and does gulp down those COLAs.

Ironically, the 2.2 percent COLA for members of Congress will go into effect in January, when retired members of Congress, and other federal and military retirees, get a 2.1 percent COLA and when federal workers likely will get the same COLA — 4.1 percent — as military personnel. Those are a lot of different COLAs.

Of the three federal-military adjustments due in January, the only true COLA in the bunch is the 2.1 percent bound for retirees and people under Social Security. It is based on the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

A COLA is the result of measuring the rate of inflation from one point in time to another.

Uncle Sam takes the economic pulse each month, and the one true COLA is born each January.

A pay raise, like the one for feds and military personnel, is a figure that often has nothing to do with inflation.

To further complicate things, President Bush said civilian feds should get only 2 percent. That is not even a full COLA.

The raises that Congress and feds will get are probably justified, even though they are packaged as a COLA.

Feds vs.. contractors

Nonfederal airport screeners and security personnel cost less to train and maintain than the roughly 48,000 feds who replaced them after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

That is because the private companies that hire security guards aren’t bogged down by providing workers with health insurance and other benefits. Many don’t spend a lot on training, especially when some of the people they hire barely speak English.

Four airports, large and small, are using private screeners to see whether they are as good as federal personnel. In November 2004, the nation’s airports — now required to have feds as security personnel — will be able to switch back to private-sector screeners, if they wish.

Politicians who are eager to outsource as much federal work as possible — contractors are generous campaign donors, career feds aren’t — think they know how that will come out. They are counting on cost-conscious corporations and cities, who own most airports, to opt for the lower-cost personnel to handle security.

In a way, Transportation Security Administration personnel are caught between a political rock and a hard place. If they do their jobs well — and there are no more serious incidents of security breach — airport managers will feel comfortable turning over the work to cheaper contractors.

If TSA botches things, or if there is a major incident, politicians will say the feds aren’t up to the job.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]federalnewsradio.com.

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