- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

Do you favor term limits for members of Congress?

If you are a federal worker or retiree, you may want to think through that one carefully. The longer House and Senate members serve, the more likely they are to retire on a government pension.

Traditional pension plans are disappearing fast. Some analysts predict that in 20 years the only people left in the country with a defined benefit pension plan will be federal workers, and maybe some lucky state government employees.

A couple of reasons explain why retirement plans covering white-collar workers, blue-collar employees, foreign service staffers and other feds will last when others disappear.

Consider the clients of the federal retirement program. They include everyone from the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, to former presidents and the widows of former presidents, as well as current members of the House and Senate and their families.

Congress isn’t about to let the federal retirement program go away because most members of Congress will draw those lifetime indexed-to-inflation benefits.

There also is the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. NARFE has been described as a giant legal-lobbying organization with one client (the retired or wannabe retired fed) and one goal (protect the pension plan).

It has done pretty well so far. Despite annual threats to trim the cost of the federal retirement program, the only major change made in modern times boosted rather than cut pensions. That was when Congress authorized a formula that calculates federal retirement benefits based on the employee’s length of service and highest three-year average salary.

Before that change, the lifetime annuity of civil servants was based on the highest five-year salary average, a practice that is still standard with most of the ever-shrinking group of companies that still offer pensions.

Others have noticed NARFE’s success in harnessing the power of retirees, or of active-duty workers who want to be retirees receiving monthly checks someday.

To that end, the Communications Workers of America is forging its own Retired Members’ Council. It hopes to get a large nationwide group of people, some of whom were or continue to be influential journalists.

So why is the CWA getting into the gray-power business? According to a fact sheet and sign-up sheet mailed to CWA members, pension plans in the communications business are going fast. So are medical benefits for retirees.

The flier cites 492,000 General Motors Corp. retirees, more than 300,000 ex-IBM workers, 150,000 from Citigroup and 50,000 Verizon workers. All of them, the CWA says, have either had pensions terminated or cut, and/or have lost some of their medical benefits.

So the next time you start to complain about long-serving politicians, consider that federal workers are in the same boat. But the politician has the life preserver — and the signal flare.

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

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