- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

If all goes as planned — a dangerous assumption in Washington — next year will be the last time all white-collar federal workers get the same national pay raise.

Feds are looking at a 3.1 percent increase that will be effective in early January, but beginning in 2007, some Defense Department workers and some Department of Homeland Security employees are slated to be under a new pay-for-performance system.

Those workers would get raises linked to their performance ratings from their supervisors. The amounts would vary depending on their marks, and the amount of money in the pay pool for their operation or occupational group.

Many feds are scared. They fear that the raises will be doled out to personal or political favorites, that there won’t be enough money to sustain otherwise fairly set increases, or that somebody on high — such as the next president — will find a way to hold down raises.

They only have to look at the bipartisan Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act to see good congressional intentions gone awry. The act was established in 1990, the promised legislative child of President Bush, a Republican, and a Democrat-controlled Congress. It was designed to close an officially designated pay gap between government and industry. By 1993, when the law went into effect, the new president called the system flawed.

Every year feds have received smaller raises than promised under the formula as President Clinton and the second President Bush opted for smaller increases. Congress each year imposed a slightly higher amount, but it falls short of the formula designed to narrow the government versus industry pay gap.

Many workers think the same thing could happen to the Defense and Homeland Security Department plans, which, when fully operational, will cover half the federal work force with the rest of government soon to follow.

Meantime, federal unions have been winning court battles to delay implementation of the pay-promote-punish rules that administration officials argue are needed to drag a 19th-century personnel system into the 21st century. The unions acknowledge their goal is to stall until a new president and a new Congress with different priorities take power.

As one union official said, instead of the death of 1,000 cuts, they are hoping pay-for-performance — which they say is the wrong name for the program — will die because of 100 30- to 60-day court-ordered delays.

Retiree raise

Many retired federal workers simply can’t believe that they are going to get a hassle-free cost-of-living adjustment in January worth 4.1 percent. Believe it.

The increase is set by law, and Congress isn’t going to tamper with it. The higher benefit will go to the majority of feds retired under the old Civil Service Retirement System, with a slightly reduced amount for those under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System.

Recipients of Social Security benefits and military people who get retired pay — the correct term — also will get 4.1 percent. In some cases, people eligible for two of the benefits, or even all three, will get a 4.1 percent adjustment in their federal annuities, their retired pay and their Social Security benefit. That’s not double- or even triple-dipping because they wouldn’t get it if they hadn’t earned it.

Dental benefits

You’ve read about the optional dental and vision care benefit coming for federal workers and retirees. But wipe that smile off your face. The benefits package won’t be offered until this time next year and won’t be effective until 2007.

Unlike the regular federal health care program, in which Uncle Sam pays about 70 percent of the premium, people who opt for one of the to-be-announced dental-vision plans will pay the full premium.

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

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