Retirement benefits suspendedWASHINGTON -- The lump sum...

Newswatch. . . on federal workers

October 31, 1990|By Mick Rood | Mick Rood,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Retirement benefits suspended

WASHINGTON -- The lump sum retirement benefit for federal retirees has fallen victim to deficit reduction.

In the torrent of legislation passed by Congress before it recessed Sunday was a measure prohibiting a retiree to claim one-half of his or her contributions to the federal retirement system on leaving the government and the other half a year later.

There had been some hope that the lump sum payments could be partially salvaged, but the savings to be realized by prohibiting the practice -- up to $1 billion -- proved too attractive to lawmakers.

Using the phrase in the measure, lump sum is being "suspended" for five years starting Nov. 30, says David Adams, an aide to the House Compensation and Employment Benefits subcommittee. Applications for lump sum payments should be submitted prior to that date.

Charlene Laskey, of the Office of Personnel Management Congressional Relations Office, said the lump sum payment will be available as long as the retiree files paperwork on or before Nov. 30.

"The payroll people would like employees to give early notice to prevent long lines. My advice is to get in early," Laskey said.

Most retirees take the lump sum, which averages about $25,000 but can be much more depending on length of service and salary level.

Adams said Congress agreed to retain an "involuntary separation" clause allowing use of the lump sum in the next five years after Nov. 30 for humanitarian reasons. By doing so, lawmakers diffused potential controversy by preventing members of Congress from using the involuntary separation exception.

Apparently, involuntary separation could have included losing an election. A House provision would have let a defeated lawmaker over 65, or with 30 years of government service, take the lump sum payment in the next 5 years.

As Adams described it, the civil service committees in Congress weren't necessarily looking to give special treatment to lawmakers.

"We were being forced to do something we didn't want to do, so we were looking for a way to soften the blow," Adams said. "But every time we do something with retirement, good or bad, it affects congressmen too."

Exceptions that remain include one for federal employees who become ill during the five-year suspension period and one for military personnel sent to the Persian Gulf as part of Desert Shield.

No lost weekend:

Also in the final hours of the 101st Congress, Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, and others were able to assure that federal employees who were furloughed Columbus Day weekend because of the budget battle would be paid the wages they lost.

Office of Personnel Management officials said that since President Bush hasn't yet signed the budget reconciliation bill, including the lost pay provision, it isn't known when or how reimbursement will be made.

Pay, perform and print:

The General Accounting Office has found that special pay rates may only temporarily ease problems retaining government employees.

Special pay rates were tested in four job categories -- clerk stenographer, secretary, clerk typist and data transcriber -- in eastern Massachusetts; Holtsville, N.Y.; San Francisco; Dallas-Ft. Worth, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Retention rates at agencies in these areas improved after a year, the auditors found. But after another year, the problem worsened and most agency officials responding to the GAO were more likely to call special rates "somewhat effective" rather than "very effective."

Officials also felt special pay rates in many cases is not sufficient to make a difference. GAO concluded special pay was only a partial solution in lieu of a more comprehensive federal pay system linked to local wage scales.

A month after GAO completed its report, Congress last week passed a bill calling for pay raises for government employees that could close the gap between private sector pay over the next decade. In the mean time, the patchwork special pay solution has been extended to almost 180,000 federal workers, or 13.8 percent of the work force. But in some areas, special pay employees make up one-half of the local work force.

The GAO also found that more than 5 percent of the 1.6 million employees supervised by respondents to a mail survey were identified as poor performers in 1988. Of those, 62 percent improved their work, left their jobs or were threatened with demotion or firing. The remaining 38 percent remained poor performers when GAO finished its work in August 1989.

A first-hand visit to 20 federal offices including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Greenbelt, Md., yielded about the same results, GAO said.

Principal reasons for failure to resolve cases involving poor performers were the time it takes to work with such employees and the perception that management wouldn't support a disciplinary action against the workers.

One union that commented, the National Federation of Federal Employees, criticized GAO for saying that denial of within-grade pay increases would not effectively deal with poor performers.

In the pay report, the GAO also found that the Government

Printing Office, which was created to assure efficiency, now "perpetuates inefficiency."

On the basis of limited comparisons, GAO said that GPO central office work totaling $150 million in 1989 might have been procured from commercial printers for as little as one-half that amount.

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