Forecast for feds: You’re toast — again!

I don’t know how it is where you live, but watching the afternoon and evening TV weather reports from the D.C. area can make you a nervous wreck. I’m back from vacation less than a week and I’ve been on tornado, wind-shear and flash-flooding alert almost 24/7.

Being where it is, and as large as it is, the D.C. metro area gets some strange weather. We are part North, part South. Between mountains and a bay, then the ocean. We have lots of traffic circles and hills, which some non-natives, even after 40 years here, never master. We sometimes have dangerous weather. But no more so than many other places — and a lot less than others.

We may swelter in the summer. But it’s a lot more humid in Houston or St. Louis or New Orleans. And they get more tornadoes in Oklahoma City, Louisville and central Pennsylvania than we get here. Montana beats us for snow. Phoenix is hotter. Maine and Fairbanks lead the D.C. area when it comes to death-by-moose! Yet we worry.

One theory is that so many people come here fully grown (more or less) and, even after a lifetime here raising kids and going to and from work, they never make the adjustment.


Our local TV weather people are tops. Most, if not all, are professional meteorologists who have come from other markets. But something seems to happen when they spend time here in what some have called, “The City of The Worried Well.”

Could it be the presence of Congress? Our high percentage of lawyers, lobbyists, psychiatrists and media types for whom bad news is good news: Full employment!

Whatever the reason, being a federal worker in Washington may be tougher, more mentally stressful, than working for Uncle Sam in Washington State, or St. Paul or Norman, Oklahoma.

A friend from the midwest, transplanted from a Defense agency there to a domestic agency here, said: “I never worried about pay raises, losing benefits, diet COLAs” and all that stuff “until I settled here and started paying attention.” He said he noticed the gloom-and-doom federal forecasts 20 years ago, and thinks they have only gotten worse, although most things have remained unchanged and untouched.

“They’ve been going after the high-three since I got here,” he said. He said he can remember in the 1980s reading about diet-COLAs for retirees. But nothing happened.

He proudly has a copy of a warning to Air Force civilians which says that “programs which affect civilian employees are continuing to undergo rapid and dramatic changes.” The letter said it was “another in our continuing series on legislative/regulations proposals and changes” that are pending. It went on to list them as:

  • A freeze on federal-military retirees cost-of-living adjustments and a 5 percent pay cut for civilian workers.
  • Increasing the early optional retirement age from 55 to 65.
  • Changing the annuity computation base from the high-three years of service to high-five years of average service. If adopted, this initiative would affect annuity entitlements.
  • It warned that “over the next two years,” Congress would raise current and future employee contributions to the retirement fund from 7 to 9 percent of salary. In effect, a 2 percent lifetime pay cut.
  • “Change the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to a ‘voucher’ system whereby employees would be given a fixed sum to purchase their own insurance plan.” Critics warned that over time, the voucher plan would force lower income workers and retirees into inferior plans.

The letter was scary when it was sent to employees in January 1985. Workers have been worried about those threats, plus some new twists, ever since. Most — thanks in large part to aggressive unions, and groups representing federal managers, executives and retirees — are still that. Threats.

The fact that they haven’t happened doesn’t mean they can’t, or won’t. But keep that thought in mind tonight as you head into your D.C. area storm-cellar. Just in case one of these days the pundits are correct.


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