Two campaigns seek to trim federal pensions

FEDERAL WORKERS

June 08, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Federal retirees are waiting to see if their pensions will be trimmed by two budget-cutting campaigns currently under way on Capitol Hill.

In the Senate, a bipartisan panel has been considering entitlement cuts and will hold its first public meeting Monday.

The 32-member Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform is likely to consider a range of cuts, including limits in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for civil service and military pensioners.

Sen. Robert Kerrey, D-Neb., who co-chairs the panel with Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., has tried to limit retirees' COLAs in the past and has not ruled out future cuts by the panel. "They're not taking anything off the table," said Greg Weiner, a spokesman for Mr. Kerrey.

Across Capitol Hill, House members are 40 votes shy of bringing the "A to Z" spending cut plan to a full vote. That plan, sponsored by Reps. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., and Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., would allow each House member to propose specific spending cuts and vote on each cut.

Even though the measure would limit total debate time to 56 hours, many federal workers say the plan is so unrestrained, cuts in COLAs could come with little warning.

Meanwhile, federal retirees are engaged in an internal war. Several former government employees, led by a retired congressman, are lobbying Congress to halt what they call the "pension gravy train." Their campaign has sparked ire among government worker unions fighting for increased COLAs and federal pension security.

Hastings Keith, 78, a former Republican congressman from Massachusetts, wants Congress to take up COLA limits.

Currently, federal pension obligations exceed $1.8 million, says Mr. Keith, who warns that government coffers will run dry by the time today's children reach retirement age.

Mr. Keith says that since he retired in 1973, he has received more than $1.2 million from the federal government for his four pensions -- civil service, military, widower's and Social Security. The former congressman received $1,560 a month when he started collecting his civil service pension, but that total pension has since skyrocketed 603 percent to $9,410 a month.

Pension collection for all federal workers -- not just former lawmakers -- should be limited, he argues.

"There may be an effort to do away with congressional pensions, but that's not really the problem," he says. "The letter carriers are in the same gravy train."

But the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) contends that the average pensioner comes from more modest means, with an average monthly annuity of $1,423. The union contends that contributions to a federal retirement fund last year totaled $63 billion -- $29 billion over what was needed to pay federal retiree and survivor annuities.

"Federal retirees are not out to break the bank or shoulder their children with undue financial burdens," contends NARFE vice president Al Golato. "Not unlike workers in the private sector, we ask only for a measure of income security in retirement. This is what we worked for. . . ."

*

Urging his colleagues to "seize the moment," Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, yesterday pressed the full Senate to adopt his government procurement reforms, which he says would allow the federal bureaucracy to buy goods and services cheaper and faster.

"For the first time, we not only have both houses of Congress motivated to enact reform, but also the administration," said Mr. Glenn, who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee and helped draft the bill. "I implore my colleagues to seize the moment and quickly enact this reform measure for the benefit of the system and the nation as a whole."

The Senate bill would give the federal government more flexibility in purchasing goods and services. It would allow agencies to buy some commercial products without expensive testing procedures and enable federal program officials to make some purchases directly instead of via government procurement offices.

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