A potpourri of proposals

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Spring is here, and with it comes the blossoming of numerous federal pay and benefits proposals. Here's a quick look at five of the top issues.

Raising the Pay Raise

The Clinton administration proposed a 4.4 percent federal pay raise in its fiscal 2000 budget plan. Then the Senate passed a bill authorizing a 4.8 percent pay raise for military personnel next year, and endorsed a 4.8 percent raise for federal civilians, too. American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage says he would like to see a 6.5 percent pay raise next year, but neither Congress or the administration have shown any inclination to go above 4.8 percent.

Trimming the Pay Raise

Whatever the federal pay raise is next year, subtract 0.15 percent to get the actual increase. That's because federal employee contributions toward retirement will be raised next year by 0.15 percent of salary. Last year the contributions went up by 0.25 percent of pay. In 2001, an additional 0.1 percent of salary will be withheld, for a total of 0.5 percent more withheld for retirement in both 2001 and 2002 than was withheld in 1998. Congress enacted the added withholding in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act as a way of helping reduce the deficit. The National Treasury Employees Union says Congress should repeal the added deductions, since there's no deficit any more. The Clinton administration's fiscal 2000 budget proposal assumes the added deductions.

Pay-for-Performance

The Clinton administration wants to reform the way federal managers are evaluated and paid. Vice President Al Gore says federal managers' pay should be tied to a set of balanced measures: business results, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

The IRS is already creating such a performance evaluation system for its employees. U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the General Accounting Office, said Tuesday that he plans to set up a similar system for managers at GAO.

The administration had planned to hold a three-day meeting last week for Clinton officials, federal unions and manager groups to discuss the administration's pay reform ideas. But AFGE spokeswoman Diane Witiak said the union asked for the meeting to be postponed because union officials are very busy with other matters. The meeting's postponement may also push back the administration's plan to give Congress an official pay reform proposal on Apr. 15.

Pondering Buyouts

The administration's pay reform ideas include letting all agencies offer buyouts to employees through Sept. 30, 2001. Many agencies cannot offer buyouts to their workers now, since governmentwide buyout authority expired in 1995. But Congress has granted individual agencies buyout authority, including the IRS (through Jan. 1, 2003), the Defense Department (through Sept. 30, 2001), the Energy Department (through Jan. 1, 2001), the Agriculture Department and NASA (through Sept. 30, 2000), and the Central Intelligence Agency (through Sept. 30, 1999).

Since 1993, the government has spent $4 billion on buyouts at an average of about $24,600 each, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Civil Service estimates. The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., recently expressed its view that more buyouts are unnecessary. While DoD will downsize by 24,000 positions in 2000, according to administration estimates, non-defense agencies will add 39,000 employees. "In the absence of any downsizing in most non-defense agencies and significant growth in others, the promulgation of such broad buyout authority would seem difficult to justify," the subcommittee concluded in a statement.

Life Insurance Open Season

Under the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program, basic life insurance is provided to federal employees automatically, unless they choose not to participate. The government pays one-third of the basic life insurance premiums. The other two-thirds is deducted from employees' pay checks.

Three optional life insurance packages are also available to employees: standard, additional and family. Because Congress enacted a number of changes to the life insurance program last year, an open season for life insurance will run from Apr. 24 to June 30.

The Office of Personnel Management has set up a life insurance open season Web site at www.opm.gov/insure/life.

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