Pay and Benefits Watch: Perennial pay problems

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In the garden of federal pay and benefits, some problems seem to be securely planted weeds. No matter how much civil servants complain and try to uproot them, there seems to be no weed-killer that works.

Take for instance, the limit on contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan. The limit is 10 percent of pay for employees in the Federal Employees Retirement System up to the 1999 IRS cap of $10,000. Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., has introduced a bill year after year to remove the percentage limitation (this year's bill is H.R. 483). But her exterminating efforts have yet to work.

Then there are the numerous caps on federal employees' pay. Overtime pay for managers and other professionals is capped at one and a half times the hourly rate of GS-10, Step 1. There's a cap on law enforcement professionals' pay at $110,700 this year (Level V of the Executive Schedule). There are at least three caps on senior executives: Basic pay at $118,400 this year (Level IV of the Executive Schedule); Basic plus locality pay at $125,900 (Level III of the Executive Schedule); and Total pay (including bonuses) at $151,800 this year (Level I of the Executive Schedule). Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has introduced a bill two years in a row to raise the overtime pay cap (this year's bill is H.R. 582). Pay experts and the Senior Executives Association have been trying to get executive pay raised for years as well.

Then there's the old Alternative Form of Annuity option, which would allow Defense Department employees to withdraw their retirement contributions in a lump sum and receive a reduced annuity. There has been an effort for several years to bring that option back, and it got as far last year as the Defense Partnership Council, which recommended to the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget that the option be revived. But the proposal didn't make it into the Defense authorization bill for next year, at least not yet.

For some retirees, burning issues are the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision, which reduce their retirement packages. Bills to eliminate or lessen the impacts of those provisions have been introduced for years, to no avail.

Even an effort to fix problems created when agencies erroneously placed up to 20,000 employees in the wrong retirement system has been revived each year, only to fall by the legislative wayside.

Congress and the administration have simply not coughed up the cash to deal with these perennial pay problems. Without that surefire herbicide, federal employees can continue to expect the same weeds in their pay and benefits garden.

Life Insurance Season Ending

If you haven't gotten around to reviewing your life insurance options, mark your calendar. June 30 is the last day you can make changes to your Federal Employee Group Life Insurance coverage. You can check out your options on the Office of Personnel Management Web site: www.opm.gov/insure/life/fegli99/.

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