- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

Many private-sector workers would love to have the job security, cradle-to-grave health insurance and inflation-protected pensions that go with federal employment.

But a lot of feds think the kind of pay system being pushed by the Bush administration could make federal service less attractive and rejuvenate the spoils system.

The Bush administration is calling for federal agencies to base raises for next year in part on an employee’s expertise, factoring in how difficult it is to retain hard-to-hire specialists. It would become the third component in annual raises, joining locality pay adjustments and the base raise given nationally, if approved by Congress.

Unions worry that the program could whittle annual raises.

The government’s pay system at one time guaranteed specialists — mostly engineers, scientists and medical personnel nationwide — rates that were 3 percent to 30 percent higher than those for nonspecialized workers in the same civil-service grades.

That system has eroded over the years because the special raters no longer automatically get the same annual raises to maintain their differentials.

A top pay specialist with the Office of Personnel Management will explain the new system tomorrow at 10 a.m. on Radio WFED-1050 AM.

Health premiums

Many younger feds, especially married couples with no children, resent paying the same premiums as families with many children or older retirees known in the insurance business as “heavy users.”

Many retirees don’t like paying premiums that cover such things as maternity benefits.

The problem is that the federal health program is a group plan — period. Group plan means everybody in the same plan pays the same premium.

Most feds and retirees have about a dozen choices and can switch plans each year. Most private-sector health plans hold down costs by cutting off coverage for retirees.

In a basic group plan, there are two groups: single or family, regardless of whether that family has two or 16 members. The basic premium is the same just as the government picks up, on average, about 70 percent of the premium.

Proposals to carve up the group plan into subgroups usually have fallen flat because of fears that it would produce different premiums for different groups — usually to the detriment of older workers and retirees with the biggest health-care bills and, often, the least amount of money.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association continues to warn members about budget plans to encourage the use of health-care savings accounts and high-deductible health plans.

NARFE fears that such programs, although they benefit many employees, could split the federal health plan and destroy the group-plan concept, which, if you live long enough, benefits just about everybody at different stations of life.

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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