- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

The Republican Study Committee’s “Operation Offset” calls for dumping or downsizing scores of federal programs, including several that are making federal workers and retirees very nervous.

The most frightening target for working feds is a proposal that would trim federal retirement benefits by an estimated $1.6 billion in the next five years.

That would happen by changing the federal retirement formula calculation so that annuities (pensions) would be based on the employees’ highest five-year salary. Currently, the benefits are based on the employees’ high-three average. The high-three became law in 1969. Before that, benefits were based on the high-five system.

But backpedaling from the high-three to the high-five system is not a new idea.

President Clinton first proposed it in his official budget request to Congress. It was knocked down by politicians, whose pension benefits also would have been reduced. Mr. Clinton stunned federal workers and retirees by also proposing what would have been a 10 percent reduction in the monthly benefit checks of widows of retired feds.

The conservative Republican group’s proposal to eliminate free parking for federal workers (but not members of Congress) also is old wine in an old bottle. President Carter led a campaign — highly unpopular with feds — to phase in paid parking for feds who enjoyed freebie spaces at their office or military base.

Angry civil servants responded to the idea by picketing the White House.

Another proposed budget cut, aimed at the civil service, would reduce but not eliminate health benefits for retired feds who worked short periods for the government. They still would be able to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, but only long-service, career employees would enjoy full benefits during retirement.

Congress comes up with spending-cut proposals each year. Most include nonstarters such as the perennial recommendation to eliminate tax breaks for home mortgages. Or to put limits on school-meal programs aimed at children from poverty-level homes. But they are trotted out year after year.

And this is one instance in which giving a federal worker the high-five is not a good idea.

Pay raise

At the start of the year, the president budgeted for a 2.3 percent white-collar federal pay raise, while members of the uniformed military were to get 3.1 percent in January.

But Washington-area politicians from both parties, who are adept at raising the raise, are again pushing for pay-raise parity. They want feds to get the same 3.1 percent as the military.

Last month, the White House gave up — but not in a way that pleased feds. It scaled back its proposed 2.3 percent pay raise, opting instead to go with a 2.1 percent increase based on private-sector wage data.

If the 2.1 percent raise holds, it would be the first time since 1993 that the White House won a pay fight with Congress.

Feds, of course, would be the losers.

Retirees/Social Security

With one month to go in the cost-of-living adjustment countdown, federal-postal-military retirees and people who get Social Security are due a minimum 3.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January. That’s automatic, and it will be higher if September living costs (which will be calculated in mid-October) are up.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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