- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Two important special-interest groups are not thrilled by the prospect of a longer-than-expected session of Congress:

• Congressional staff, who after months of long hours and weekend work had hoped for some downtime this fall.

• Lobbyists, who get paid to enhance or at least protect the benefits package of civil servants and retired feds.

Unions and associations that represent current and former feds hoped to get the maximum pay raise — a 3.1 percent increase — for civil servants effective in January. They expected to again outflank the White House, which is pushing for 2.1 percent for civilian feds and 3.1 percent for military personnel.

But the higher 3.1 percent raise is riding inside the Treasury appropriations bill, one of many that still hasn’t been passed even though the new fiscal year begins in two weeks. Absent a congressional mandate for the higher raise, feds would have to settle for 2.1 percent in January.

Active and retired feds had hoped to pull off one other legislative coup this year, in addition to the higher pay raise. That’s the plan that would extend to 2 million retired federal and postal workers the option to pay health insurance premiums, which can run into the thousands of dollars, with pretax dollars.

Most people on the payroll have and use the option, saving them up to $500 a year in taxes. But the tax code doesn’t permit the pretax option unless and until Congress changes it. It was considered a long shot at the beginning of the year, but even with the stretched out session, Congress is expected to pigeonhole it until next year.

Paychecks/401k

Feds at the National Finance Center in New Orleans deserve a medal. They finished the payroll for tens of thousands of workers in a dozen agencies just hours before the hurricane hit. As a result, just about everybody who was supposed to get paid that following week got paid. Some of the NFC staffers, by the way, are among the missing.

Payroll operations, tapes, etc., have been transferred to other locations and seem to be proceeding smoothly.

The Thrift Savings Plan (the federal 401k plan) has been processing contributions from employees to their accounts from its Philadelphia backup operation. TSP officials urge employees to use the Internet where possible.

But in the case of loan applications, some of which require mailing documents to the NFC in New Orleans, postal officials have been forwarding them to an alternative location.

Meanwhile, if you have a loan application that you can’t do online, you can remail it and it will be forwarded. Or you can fax it to this toll-free number: 866/817-5023. It will be busy a lot, so be patient. Don’t use a cover sheet or, if you do, put it behind the form. Also if you are faxing a form you completed on the Web site, do not print it in color.

Retiree raise

No matter what Congress does — or doesn’t do to feds during the long session — the January cost-of-living adjustment for federal-military and Social Security retirees is good to go. The amount stands at 3.2 percent, but it will go up if living costs for the month of August jump. The August Consumer Price Index will be announced this week.

PFP on hold

The effect of the hurricane, and the after-action reports that are coming, mean the Pay For Performance timetables for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security may be delayed for as long as 12 months. Congress is going to want to look at the performance of top Federal Emergency Management Agency brass (mainly political appointees).

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


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