Early retirement bill introducedWASHINGTON -- For those...

Newswatch . . . on federal workers

February 27, 1991|By Eliza Newlin | Eliza Newlin,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Early retirement bill introduced

WASHINGTON -- For those who think police officers and firefighters have dangerous occupations, think again.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., offers a clue: Try collecting taxes from someone who hasn't paid.

Internal Revenue Service employees are more frequently assaulted than all other federal workers, says Mikulski, who has introduced legislation that would allow early retirement for those in risky government jobs.

The bill, which also applies to customs inspectors, canine enforcement officers and immigration inspectors, allows those with 20 years of service to retire at age 50.

These workers "have very hazardous, physically taxing occupations, and it is in the public's interest to ensure a young and vigorous work force in these jobs," said Mikulski in a recent letter to Senate colleagues urging their support.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., co-sponsored the legislation, and Rep. Al Swift, D-Wash., has introduced a similar measure in the House.

An FBI study found that IRS officers suffered more assaults in 1988 than any other government law enforcement group, Mikulski said.

The study also found that between 1984 and 1988, more customs officers died because of service-related injuries than any other category of federal worker except drug enforcement agents and correctional officers.

"The statistics themselves speak volumes," said Thomas J. Spangler, legislative liaison for the National Treasury Employees Union.

"You can go into entire districts and you won't see any revenue officers who make the 30-year retirement mark. They are quitting or they are on disability retirement. They get out for physical reasons," Spangler said.

The measure would affect 17,000 workers nationwide.

Two groups of federal workers -- law enforcement officers and firefighters -- already enjoy an "early-out" that allows them to retire at 50 after serving for 20 years. The Mikulski bill, which was introduced last year but never came to a vote, may arouse opposition for cost reasons, said her spokesman, Mike Morrill.

But the IRS believes the bill would actually save money, said Morrill.

An IRS study released in the mid-1980s concluded that tax collectors who know they could look forward to early retirement would be less likely to quit. As a result, the IRS would spend less money on hiring and training new employees, the study found.

After all, noted Morrill, "being an IRS agent is not the most popular job in the world."

While many federal workers applaud last year's pay reform legislation, one group of employees feels left out in the cold: Blue-collar workers.

Blue-collar workers in the Federal Wage System got a 4.1 percent pay raise last year, the same as General Schedule workers. But they did not share in a one-time 8 percent pay increase for federal workers in metropolitan areas where the cost of living is high. And blue-collar workers are tired of having their wages capped so they do not exceed those of white-collar employees.

"The situation is unfair," said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., in a recent statement on the floor of the Senate. "It is unfair to all federal blue-collar employees who were promised fair wages by Congress when the prevailing rate system was designed. And it is particularly unfair now that the white-collar pay system has been reformed to include locality-based comparability payments to bring General Schedule salaries in line with private-sector wages in local wage areas."

Pell has introduced legislation that would require all blue-collar employees to receive salaries in line with comparable private-sector jobs in their respective regions.

In principle, blue-collar federal wages are based on yearly local surveys of similar jobs in private industry. But a pay cap enacted in 1979 has kept blue-collar wages from outstripping those of white-collar federal workers.

As a result, many blue-collar workers have salaries that lag far behind their private-sector counterparts, said Pell.

The typical worker:

Who is the typical federal worker? The Office of Personnel Management has the answer, hidden deep in a monthly statistical analysis that includes a profile of the typical civilian federal employee who does not work for the U.S. Postal Service.

According to recent data released last week, the average employee is 42.3 years old; has worked for the federal government for 13.4 years, and is well-educated -- 35 percent have bachelor's degrees or advanced degrees. Seventeen percent are Vietnam veterans.

The gender balance tilts toward males, who make up 57 percent of the federal work force.

Concerning the racial mix, 27.4 percent of the workers belong to minority groups -- 16.7 percent black, 5.4 percent Hispanic, 3.5 percent Asian and 1.8 percent Native American.

Seven percent are handicapped.

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