Lump-sum proposal is back
WASHINGTON -- The fate of federal retirees' lump-sum benefit payments could be decided in the next several days when Congress works out the details of the budget plan adopted yesterday.
In the original budget agreement that went down in flames, triggering the near shutdown of the federal government, the lump-sum payment had been eliminated. It was the major casualty in the area of federal employee wages, benefits, health insurance and retirement.
The proposal is back in the revised budget plan. And congressional committees will decide where to make the $40 billion in spending cuts for fiscal 1991. Both the Senate Governmental Affairs and the House Post Office and Civil Service committees could decide not to drop the lump-sum payment.
The lump-sum proposal would allow federal retirees to take a 50 percent chunk of their retirement income when they retire and the other 50 percent a year later. It is an attractive option for retirees.
Eliminating the benefit would save $1 billion, making that an equally attractive budget-cutting option for the committees, which have been ordered to slash $2.16 billion from the $14.35 billion in federal programs they authorize.
"Members are obviously going to exercise some judgment," said David Adams, a staff member of the House Compensation and Employment Benefits subcommittee.
Adams described the situation as, at best, confusing, since committees have a precious few days to get their recommendations to the House floor for debate and passage by Oct. 19. He expects the full House panel will decide the lump-sum proposal by Friday.
Kim Weaver, a staffer on the Senate panel, said elimination of the lump-sum proposal has always been the product of language that "didn't make any sense." The original budget plan cut the benefit, but intended to allow those ready to retire in October to take the benefit before it expired, Weaver said.
But retirees who opted for it, depending on which retirement program they belonged to, had to have their paperwork in by Oct. 1 or Oct. 3, a few days before the budget agreement was defeated in the House.
Weaver assumes that if the lump-sum benefit is to be dropped again, a clearly described window will be outlined. She is advising callers to wait until Congress finalizes the budget by Oct. 20 and then file their papers for the benefit if it is, indeed, done away with.
Weaver adds, "but I don't know if the committee will do it" -- cut out the lump-sum benefit.
And to the suspicious federal employee from Baltimore who called yesterday, both Adams and Weaver had these words: If the lump-sum benefit is dropped for federal employees, the losers will include members of Congress and their employees.
The caller said he had been told members of Congress were retaining their lump-sum payments no matter what, using the excuse that they are not in the civil service system.
Adams said that while there are differences in treatment, primarily in the higher percentage of their salaries that congressional employees can put into their retirement fund, Congress is in essentially the same retirement system and vulnerable to systemwide changes.
Venting some feelings
The nation's largest federal employees' union, the American Federation of Government Employees, had planned to rally at the White House Oct. 2 if the budget summit failed. Well, the summit failed, but Congress gave negotiators another week to talk, so the rally was canceled.
This time, AFGE isn't waiting until after the fact to vent its feelings. President John N. Sturdivant has called for a noon-time demonstration tomorrow in front of the White House.
The goal is to urge that no federal benefits are cut in the newest round of budget deliberations.
Sturdivant also suggested that the president negotiate directly with the Congress.
"President Bush must himself come out of the White House and make the short trip to Capitol Hill to work with the Congress . . . and halt the emotional roller-coaster federal workers have been forced to ride," he said.
Exchange program saved
The House voted recently to extend a public-private executive exchange program for three months so that participants from the private sector could finish the year in their temporary government posts.
Paid for by the private sector, 10 business executives serving in the government needed a 90-day extension of the program. The bill also provided for the first time full benefits to federal employees who go to work in the private sector each year.
Exchange officials from the government had been put on "leave without pay." Now, 5,13l they will be "detailed," thus preserving their federal benefits.
Maryland Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th, a supporter of the program, noted that private executives are serving in embassies in Hungary and Japan and another is working in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"I would say that it is a very sad time that we bring this to the floor, because as we are looking at impending furloughs if some [budget] agreement is not reached, we know that it will do incredible damage to the whole concept of public service," Morella said.