- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, most Americans who watch television, listen to the radio or read newspapers know that much of the city of New Orleans is below sea level.

That information is especially important for the 3.4 million active and retired federal/postal/military personnel whose $160 billion retirement nest egg is safe, even though major financial operations of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) are handled at the National Finance Center in the New Orleans area.

Because the finance center and the New Orleans post office are shut down, any TSP business conducted by mail will be stalled. Nobody is at the finance center to process the information or at the main post office to sort the mail.

Potentially affected are transactions such as new payroll submissions from agencies that go through the National Finance Center. Agencies that normally transmit to the center should contact the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board for instructions. They can download the instructions and send the information to the Northern Virginia data center.

Parallel call centers are taking all calls that would have been directed to the National Finance Center. Don’t overload the system by “testing” it.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, officials set up parallel operations across the country. That includes a call center in Cumberland, Md., as well as another opening this week in Clintwood, Va. Backup computer operations are in Pittsburgh and in a classified site in Northern Virginia.

The call centers allow TSP participants to speak with a service representative between 7 and 9 a.m. EDT, Monday through Friday. The TSP Web site (www.tsp.gov) provides an alternative to the call centers. Many, if not most, workers use the Web site, while many retirees who have TSP accounts prefer the personal touch of talking to someone on the telephone.

Operations that investors can conduct on the Internet — such as loans, withdrawals, interfund transfers and contribution allocations — will not be affected.

Postal pay raise

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) says the next cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), $728 per year, due clerks will be the biggest raise they’ve had since the Carter administration era of double-digit inflation.

The COLA will show up in mid-September paychecks and will bring Level 5 employees, who make up the bulk of the inside work force, up to $46,000 per year.

Postal employees are the only feds who, because of their contract with APWU and the National Association of Letter Carriers unions, receive COLAs. Other feds get pay raises that are set by Congress and the White House.

The next pay raise due white-collar civilian federal workers will be either the 2.3 percent proposed by the White House or the 3.1 percent equity-with-the-military plan being pushed in Congress.

Either way, the next pay raise, in January, will bring the average white-collar civil servant in the Washington area up to the $80,000-per-year pay range.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected] radio.com.

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