- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

In the Washington area, the operating condition of Uncle Sam (whether it’s open or closed) is a big deal to the 360,000 feds in the area and the day care providers, schools and transit services they use.

In an effort to reach out to feds faster — those with computers and cell phones that can send and receive text messages — the government has begun a program to e-mail its stop-or-go decision based on weather or a traffic emergency.

The subtle message is “Don’t call us; we’ll e-mail you.”

That’s because telephone lines in the Washington area often go into meltdown as soon as it starts to snow or sleet, when there is a hurricane in the neighborhood or whenever there is a national-security alert.

If all goes as planned, feds who have signed up for the service through the Office of Personnel Management will receive one of the first alerts about the operating status of the federal government.

You can sign up for the service at the OPM Web site, www.opm.gov, and then go to the Operating Status Mailing List subscription page.

Go Nats! Go PC! Go Windfall/Offset

It is possible that the brand-new Washington baseball team, the Nationals, will win the pennant this year and go on to take the World Series. Possible, but not probable. As in probably not.

By the same token, it’s possible that the No. 1 legislative goal of many working feds, Premium Conversion, will become law this year. The PC plan has been around for years, ever since the Clinton administration extended it to working feds but not to retirees.

Feds who opt for PC (the vast majority do) pay their health premiums with pretax dollars and save anywhere from a couple hundred to as many as a thousand bucks in taxes each year.

But the tax code doesn’t permit PC for retirees (federal or private sector). That will take an act of Congress, which is what Sen. John W. Warner and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, both Virginia Republicans, want their colleagues to do.

Their bills, S. 484 and H.R. 994, would extend the benefit to feds who are retired and those who retire in the future. They’ve tried before, but think this could be the year.

How come?

After obeying the regular congressional speed limit (taking the bill through committee channels) and being rebuffed, Mr. Davis and Mr. Warner have lost patience. Mr. Davis recently told a rally of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees that a little detour may be in order.

The idea is to find a bill that Congress must pass, and the president will sign and embed the premium conversion language in it. If that happens, then it could save current feds (when they retire) and already retired civil servants several billion (with a B) dollars over the next five years.

It also could enable many of them to buy better insurance coverage, thus shifting the burden of their medical bills from the government to private insurance companies.

Possible, yes. Likely? Stay tuned.

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

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