- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

So how does the government plan to lure midcareer professionals to join the war on terrorism? Does it offer them fat salaries, bigger pensions or stock options? No.

The newest incentive to sign up top talent from the private sector is the chance to have 26 vacation days a year.

President Bush last week signed into law a provision that lets new hires to the Senior Executive Service (SES) earn vacation time at an accelerated rate.

The newly minted SES folks will be able to double the traditional 13 days of leave after one year on the job.

Most members of the SES are career rather than political appointees who run the government on a day-to-day basis. At the Defense Department, the Homeland Security Department, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, many jobs on the top rung of the federal civil service salary system are unfilled.

Interviews with midcareer private-sector professionals indicated that many were reluctant to give up vacation packages they had earned over the years to start anew with the government.

Congress changed the law so that the executives — who normally would be limited to 13 days of annual leave for their first 15 years of service — could earn twice as much time off immediately. For each two-week pay period — there are normally 26 a year — they will accrue one day of vacation.

Employees in pay grades one through 15 will continue to accumulate 13 vacation days per year for the first 15 years of service with the maximum 26 days achievable only after many years of service.

Health insurance

You can save — or squander — as much as $2,000 next year depending on how well and wisely you shop for your federal health plan.

The open season starts Nov. 13 and runs through Dec. 11. Premiums are going up an average of 2.2 percent, but some plans are reducing costs while others will increase them dramatically.

During the open season, we’ll help you pick some of the best buys whether you are single or married, have a family with lots of children, or are a retiree or a survivor.

If you are working, then be sure to check with your agency’s human resources office to see whether it has subscribed to the online version of the Washington Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans. If so, then you can shop at home or work after obtaining your special password.

In the meantime, you can access information on health plans, the new dental and prescription optional health plans, and other choices at www.opm.gov/insure/DentalVision/index.asp.

The good news is that the dozens of health plans available to feds, including fee-for-service programs and health maintenance organizations, have solid catastrophic coverage, which is the main reason most people buy health insurance. But some plans simply charge too much in premiums for what you get.

Shopping wisely can save individuals as much as $1,000 next year in premiums and out-of-pocket costs. The savings for smart-shopper families can be up to $2,000.

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

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