- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

Imagine being put on hold for six to eight months, only to be told that nobody there can help you, or that you called the wrong number.

Although it is rarely that bad, applicants for federal jobs — some of whom have skills the government wants, needs and recruits for — have faced an eight-month hiring process.

But that is about to change, according to officials who believe the process, even with security clearances, can be cut down to a respectable 45 days.

Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, says the lengthy federal hiring process “is a target-rich” environment that can be made more efficient without compromising security.

Mrs. James says more people could be given jobs or at least the promise of employment “pending the outcome of investigations.” She also believes too many people are involved in the hiring process; it has too many steps and often is a low priority.

Mrs. James believes the federal government, for many specialists, has become the employer of choice, and that if talent comes knocking it should be let in.

Pay raise/COLA

While Congress and the White House struggle over the size of the federal pay raise in January, federal retirees have “banked” 2.4 percent for their next cost-of-living adjustment.

The COLA is automatic. It is effective in December and first shows up in the Social Security, federal and military retiree checks in January. The COLA will go higher if living costs as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics go up between now and the end of September.

Meantime, Congress continues to lay the groundwork for a 3.5 percent white-collar federal pay raise, to match the 3.5 percent approved for uniformed military personnel.

The White House favors the military raise, but wants to limit civilians to 1.5 percent. This has been the pattern for the past 11 years. President Clinton and now President Bush have requested smaller civilian raises but — up to now — they have been overruled by Congress.

Insurance season

Chances are federal health insurance premiums will go up an average of 10 percent or more next year. That is less than the bite for most private-sector workers, but it is still a chunk of money.

The good news is that federal and postal workers and retirees in the Washington area have more than a dozen health plans to choose from. And the plans cannot reject them because of age, health or pre-existing medical conditions.

This year, federal workers and retirees will have an open season — between Nov. 8 and Dec. 13 — when they can pick their 2005 health plan. Those who don’t make any change will remain in their current plan.

But with premiums going up, it will, as always, pay to shop around.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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