Monday, August 16, 2004

In a presidential race, politicians either fear or engineer the “October surprise” — a bombshell story, scandal or revelation with enough legs to keep it alive and kicking until the November election.

But for federal workers, any October (or September) surprise is likely to be welcome.

When it comes down to the wire, operatives of both parties discover that federal workers and their family members, retired feds and active and retired military personnel represent a huge voting bloc.

Facing a tough re-election battle, President Carter authorized and announced a whopping 9.1 percent federal pay raise weeks before the 1980 election. Less-expensive goodies have been tossed to feds in other election years. So what could happen this year?

Despite being on leave a lot of the time — most recently a six-week break that will end on Sept. 7 — Congress has laid the groundwork for a variety of important bills. Any one of them would make a lot of civilian feds or retirees happy, and both parties could claim credit if they thought it would help. Pending items include:

• Legislation to modify or repeal the Social Security windfall and offset laws. The windfall formula can reduce the monthly Social Security benefit of someone under the Civil Service Retirement System, or many schoolteachers and city and state workers, as much as $306 per month. The offset formula can wipe out the spousal Social Security benefit due a retired federal civil servant. Bills to modify or repeal have enough co-sponsors to pass, provided the Senate and House have a floor vote.

• A bill that would extend to retired feds the so-called “premium conversion” option now enjoyed by active-duty federal workers. The option — which most feds take — saves them hundreds of dollars a year in taxes and permits many to buy better health insurance. But when feds retire, they lose the option. It can be extended to retirees only by Congress.

• A proposal to require that white-collar civil servants get the same percentage pay raise each year as military personnel. Congress and the White House, for the 11th straight year, are fighting over the size of the federal pay raise. The White House wants feds to get 1.5 percent in January while military personnel are due 3.5 percent. Congress wants equal pay raise treatment. The language pending would mandate equal treatment in future years.

Friends in high places

The move of Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican, as chairman of the House Government Reform civil service and agency reorganization subcommittee to the House Select Committee on Intelligence gives feds yet another high-profile friend in Congress.

She will continue — with added clout — to push pro-federal-worker issues. Her likely successor on the important subcommittee, Rep. Ed Schrock, Virginia Republican, is pro-fed and pro-military. He had better be: He represents the Norfolk area, which is rich in federal civilian workers and Navy personnel.

Feds already have friends in high places from both major parties. They include Reps. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf, both Virginia Republicans, plus Steny H. Hoyer, Albert R. Wynn and Elijah E. Cummings, all Maryland Democrats, and in the Senate two 800-pound champions, Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, who heads the Appropriations Committee, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or

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