- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

Like any large outfit, the federal government has a very small but very determined group of fearful workers who are convinced that the end is near.

Folks of this mind-set do not make for happy workers. They spend much of their careers worrying about their jobs and trying to convince co-workers that the career road ahead is rocky, at best. Their bogus gloom-and-doom predictions usually focus on some unlikely event like a pay freeze, or plans to gut or abolish their excellent benefits package.

Nobody knows exactly how or why these people do what they do — that is worry a lot about nothing. What is odd is that after the gloom-and-doom deadline that they set passes, they simply move on to another pending crisis de jour. It would be funny, except that a press that thrives on crisis (is there a snakehead fish in your bathtub?) and the Internet to spread it, bad news travels fast — whether true or false.

One of these days, the end-is-near crowd may get it right. But for the past 30 years they’ve been batting zero. Every dire prediction they made, and then helpfully spread throughout the government, has been dead wrong. But they persist.

The latest loser: the pre-election warning that President Bush’s next budget would propose a federal pay freeze. That hasn’t happened since 1993, when President Clinton tried it and was rebuffed by Congress.

In late October, a minor federal union leader warned members of his local that if re-elected, Mr. Bush would freeze federal pay. He quoted the union’s national president, who went ballistic because he had never said anything like that. But thanks to e-mails, the pay freeze rumor spread like wildfire throughout the government. It was even reconfigured to look like a “news” story.

The pay freeze rumor popped up again last month with a couple of new wrinkles: a warning that the new budget would propose deliberalizing the federal retirement system to reduce future benefits for current workers and a plan to eliminate the federal employee health program. The federal health program, incidentally, covers 9 million people, virtually all members of Congress and their families and former presidents and vice presidents of the United States.

Now comes the president’s budget. Although it is a shopping list and not a done deal for Congress, it is official. It spells out what the president wants from spending to cuts.

So we already know, in fact knew last week, that the president is not proposing a civil service pay freeze for 2006. In fact, he will ask Congress to give civilian workers a 2.3 percent raise, while the uniformed military would get 3.1 percent.

That pay raise proposal is in keeping with previous budgets of Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton. Each year in office, both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush proposed smaller raises for feds than those called for by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. Mr. Clinton’s first budget called for a federal pay freeze, but Congress each year has overridden the president, regardless of political party, and given feds larger raises.

This year, in fact, white-collar government workers in the Washington-Baltimore area got a 3.7 percent raise, while military people stationed here, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, got 3.5 percent. Feds in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia got even more than feds here, under the locality pay system.

Another current rumor is that the White House will propose eliminating the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. That’s so silly that it is hard to know where to start. The FEHBP is the biggest in the country. It is a model for other health plans. Mr. Clinton wanted to include uninsured non-feds in the program, and 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, proposed FEHBP coverage for otherwise uninsurable people.

If anything, the FEHBP — which covers retired feds from 100-year-old former clerks to former Vice Presidents Dan Quayle and Al Gore — will get bigger in the future. Yet many feds are being bombarded with e-mails on an almost daily basis warning of some pending benefit cut that, if proposed, would never make it through Congress.

The only pay raise fight this year will be the annual battle between Congress and the White House to ensure that federal civilians get the same percentage pay raise, not dollar amount, that goes to military personnel.

So don’t worry. Be (relatively) happy.

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

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