Big retirement plan cuts: What are the odds?

Are you worried about the pay-more-get-less design changes Congress and the White House are considering for your Federal Employees Retirement System and Civil Service Retirement System plans? Does the idea of 20 or 30 years in retirement without inflation protection give you nightmares?

Could you stand a little good news? If so, consider that of the 5,000 to 7,000 bills introduced in Congress each year only about 5 percent make it through the process and become laws. Hold that thought — federal workers who follow the news do not much like what they are seeing, hearing and reading of late.

The White House last Friday, via executive order, has curbed the scope and clout of federal unions, made it technically easier to fire feds faster and reduced the amount of official time — which is paid —workers can spend on union business. An EO does not require congressional approval and can be changed anytime by this, or another, president.

Many people and groups, including The Washington Post, see this as going well beyond an effort to make the government more businesslike. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the executive orders were “not just a threat to federal employees, but to the orderly and efficient operation of the entire U.S. government…”

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Nobody knows how deep those changes will go, how many people might be escorted from their jobs and how much more it will cost unions to continue representing members at current levels. But whether the changes turn out to be major or minor, they are a done deal, at least for the duration of this administration.

Still awaiting congressional action are half a dozen proposals from President Donald Trump and House Republicans which, if they make it through the House and Senate, would make working feds pay more for their retirement benefits while drastically reducing the value of those benefits. People under the FERS retirement plan would no longer get cost of living adjustments. Those under the CSRS system would get COLAs that are 0.5 percent less than the annual rise in inflation.

Over time the changes would slash the buying power of retirees. Also on the table is a proposal to eliminate the Social Security gap payment, which can be worth thousands of dollars, for feds whose jobs require them to retire five years before they become eligible for Social Security.

But time, the political calendar and the legislative system may be on your side.

Groups representing federal-postal-retirees are working closely together in fighting a rear guard action to protect the pension system. The fact that this is an election year means Congress will be out of town and both unwilling and unable to get much done on the legislative front.

Except for the National Defense Authorization Act, that is. It’s considered a must-pass bill and is often stuffed with items unrelated to the nation’s defense posture with things such as proposed changes in the FERS retirement program.

Fortunately for feds and retirees the NDAA passed by the House does not contain any of the so-called poison pill proposals aimed at active and retired feds. They could appear in the Senate version or not, which is a work in progress. Somewhere down the road the two different bills must be merged and approved. If the House bill also does no harm to the federal retirement program it is probably home free, at least for the rest of this year.

Another good sign for feds (regardless of your political leanings) is the fact that a record 48 Republican House members are either retiring or not seeking reelection. The latest came over the weekend when Rep. Thomas Garret (R-Va.) announced he will not seek reelection because of health problems. That means more House seats are genuinely up for grabs than most years in our system which favors incumbents. More competition means more time on the political road which should work in favor of feds and retirees.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

The Braille writing system is indebted to two 12-year-olds born 192 years apart. Louis Braille, who was blind since age 3, began developing the system in 1821 using a kind of cryptography for the French army. Then in 2014, Shubham Banerjee of Santa Clara, California, invented the lower-cost Braigo Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit. Ironically, Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, while Banerjee was born in neighboring Belgium.

Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonianmag.com, Braigo Labs