Tuesday, September 21, 2004

When it comes to pay and glamour, workers in the largest federal agency — the U.S. Postal Service — often take a back seat to their colleagues with the U.S. Secret Service, Foreign Service officers or air traffic controllers. But when it comes time to pick and pay for their all-important health insurance, postal workers laugh all the way to the bank.

Thanks to their contract with the USPS, postal clerks, letter carriers, mail handlers and other craft and maintenance employees of their mail-moving corporation pay less for the same coverage.

Postal workers, unlike their white-collar civil service colleagues, are mostly card-carrying union members. The vast majority belong to the American Postal Workers Union, which represents “inside” employees who sort the mail, and the National Association of Letter Carriers, “outside” employees who deliver.

Depending on the plan they choose, postal workers can pay anywhere from one-third to nearly one-half as much as workers at the Commerce or Justice departments, or civilians at the Pentagon or the National Institutes of Health. That differential will continue next year when the average premium for nonpostal employees will go up a modest 7.9 percent.

That’s in contrast to an 11.1 percent increase this year and a 13.3 percent increase in 2003.

Social Security, civil service COLA

More than 80 million retirees — people who get Social Security benefits, civil service retirement annuities or retired military pay — are set to get a 2.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January. The raise for retirees isn’t subject to congressional or White House action. It reflects the rise in living costs as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics via the Consumer Price Index.

Retirees were on track to get a 2.8 percent raise until the CPI took a rare — but not unprecedented — nose dive in July, then held steady in August. Result: the prospective raise stands at 2.6 percent with one month (this one) left in the countdown. The CPI for the month of September will be made public in mid-October. It will determine how much the Social Security-civil service-retired military COLA will be.

Federal pay raise

Nonpostal federal workers — including more than 300,000 in the Washington-Baltimore area — won’t know the official amount of their January 2005 pay raise until later this year. The Bush administration proposed 1.5 percent but Congress is, once again, setting the stage for a legislative end run. If it works (as it has every year since 1993) feds will get the same percentage raise, that would be 3.5 percent, as military personnel.


Senate-House conferees on the homeland security appropriations bill will decide whether to block an administration plan to farm out the jobs of nearly 1,400 federal immigration-related jobs to the private sector.

In a related matter, a Senate subcommittee has voted to reject what federal unions call a “pro-contractor rewrite” of the government’s A-76 policy, which acts as a guideline for contracting out work done by feds to the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management says its employees have won 12 out of 12 battles with private firms seeking to take over functions now performed by civil servants. Most recently an OPM team turned in the low bid for Internet-technology work at its Macon, Ga., outpost.

Feds in many agencies are winning a wide variety of contests (thus saving their jobs) with the private sector. But many workers complain that the time-consuming bidding process hurts productivity and detracts from the mission of the agency. One likened it to students being taught to pass a test, rather than learn the material.

No ups and downs for this fund

The G-fund of the federal thrift savings plan has never had a bad day, week, month or year. It’s composed of special Treasury securities that are not available to the general public. Each month the Treasury determines the rate at which the G-fund will be invested. For September that is 4.125 percent, and in August it was 4.5 percent. The G-fund had an annual compound rate of 7.10 in 1995 and its low was 4.15 percent last year.

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

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