(Senior Correspondent Mike Causey is on vacation. This column was originally published June 17)
Thanks to gridlock and midterm politics, 2014 may turn out to be a good year (remember, all things are relative) for federal and postal workers. Just recall what your civil-service psyche has been through the last few years. So what’s good about gridlock and political fever?
Most members of the House and a third in the Senate are concerned about getting re-elected this fall. Republicans want to keep control of and expand their numbers in the House.
Being in the majority means more political clout and sometimes a better office to work from and more taxpayer-supplied creature comforts.
Democrats are battling to retain their majority in the Senate. Many members of both parties are equally determined not to cooperate with the other side.
While the media, good-government groups and some members of Congress decry the situation, it can be a good thing if you are a frequent and favorite target of Congress. That group — known as the usual suspects — nearly always includes the federal workforce. Sometimes they are the primary target for benefit cuts, pay freezes (most recently a three-year drought) or of token raises such as the 1 percent slated for Jan. 1. A shrinking group of pro-fed members of Congress has proposed a 3.3 percent raise, but its chances of being approved are slim to none. The pay-raise parity movement, to give civilian and military personnel the same percentage increase, is also probably going nowhere.
Welcome to what could, soon, become the good old days.
No matter who controls Congress after the next election, it’s a good bet that next year will be busier and less pleasant for the federal family.
Congress and the White House are expected to resume efforts to switch to a different formula for determining living costs for retirees, so that future raises for people who get Social Security, federal or military retirement will be reduced. Jessica Klement of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association says moving from the current system to the so-called “chained CPI” would reduce each future retiree COLA by about 0.3 percent. While that’s not much on an annual basis, she said that for the average CSRS retiree (getting $32,000 per year) it would amount to a $50,000 loss over a 25-year period. The Congressional Budget Office scored it as a $162 billion savings over a 10-year period.
Congress next year may also look at reducing retirement benefits for people retiring in the future. That could be accomplished by basing annuities on the employee’s highest five-year average salary. They are now figured on the “high-three” formula. While the reduction to individuals would be slight, backers estimate the slight change would save taxpayers (and cost retirees) just over $6 billion over the next eight to 10 years.
NEARLY USELESS FACTOID
Chimpanzees are apparently capable of creating and following fashion trends. After a trend-setting chimp in the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia put a single blade of grass in her ear, other chimps began to copycat the behavior, according to a study in the journal Animal Cognition. Researchers found no evolutionary or communicative benefit to the accessory, concluding it was adopted by others for fashion reasons.
TSA to offer early retirement The Transportation Security Administration will offer Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) to its eligible employees this calendar year.
What happened to all of the young federal employees? The lack of 30-and-under talent in the federal workforce means agencies will be facing significant shortfalls in the future, says Jeff Neal, former chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security.