Pay and Benefits Watch: The year in pay and benefits

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Pay and Benefits Watch debuted as a weekly column on Jan. 7, 1999, with a look at the gap between federal salaries and private sector wages.

In the year that followed, the column delved into a myriad of federal pay and benefits issues, from the Windfall Elimination Provision to life insurance to dental benefits to why your paychecks don't always add up.

The column marks its one-year anniversary with a reflection on 1999, a year that saw federal pay and benefits expand in important ways.

Congress began the year with a concerted effort to improve compensation for military personnel, including a 4.8 percent pay increase for 2000. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., ensured that civilian government personnel were given the same raise.

Senior executives were also granted an above-average pay increase, but because of a cap on executive pay, the top three ranks of the Senior Executive Service will be at the same pay level in 2000: $130,200. The Senior Executives Association is clamoring for an elimination of the cap, which is tied to congressional and Cabinet-level pay.

GovExec.com posted the 2000 pay rates last week.

Meanwhile, executives and lower-level employees can celebrate a good year for the Thrift Savings Plan, the government's 401(k)-style retirement savings program. The TSP's C Fund, which invests in stocks, soared 20.79 percent in the 12 months ending in November.

On the other hand, federal employees' health insurance premiums increased substantially in 1999, and OPM announced in September that they would rise an average of 9.3 percent in 2000 as well.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers gave agencies permanent authority to offer early retirement packages to employees without seeking congressional approval (though the Office of Personnel Management must sign off on agencies' early out plans). Agencies were not given permanent authority to offer employee buyouts, but Congress extended special buyout authority to several agencies.

Congress also mandated that agencies offer managers reimbursement of half the cost of professional liability insurance. Previously, agencies could offer reimbursement but were not required to.

Despite all these actions, most of the proposed legislative changes to federal pay and benefits that were introduced in Congress never got off the ground, leaving plenty of work to be done in 2000.

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