Correction to This Article
This column incorrectly said that federal employees under the Civil Service Retirement System also get Social Security benefits. It also said that federal employees get an annual cost-of-living increase. Some do, but most receive an annual pay raise set by Congress and the president.
How to Deal

How to Deal: Uncle Sam Is a Boss You Can Rely On

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By Lily Garcia
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Q It takes so long to land a job in the federal government, even though they keep saying there are so many new ones coming open. What are some of the advantages to working for the federal government?

A The primary advantages of working for the federal government are generous benefits, solid pay and relative job security -- a combination that is challenging to find in the private sector, even in the best of times.

The Office of Personnel Management provides a comprehensive overview of federal employee benefits on its Web site, http://www.opm.gov. Some key benefits of federal employment are:

-- Health care. The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program offers the widest selection of health-care plans of any U.S. employer. Federal employees also have access to vision and dental plans, life insurance, flexible-spending accounts and long-term care plans.

-- Paid time off. Federal employees enjoy liberal amounts of paid time off, including 13 days of sick leave per year, 10 paid federal holidays, and 13 to 26 days of paid vacation, depending on years of service.

-- Retirement benefits. Federal employees have access to retirement benefits through the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. Under both plans, retired employees receive an annuity, which is complemented by Social Security benefits and participation in the Thrift Savings Plan that offers 401(k)-type investment options. Retired federal employees also can continue health benefits at the same monthly cost that they paid before retirement.

-- Family-friendly policies. Another notable benefit of federal employment is family-friendly policies, including flexible work schedules, telecommuting, part-time jobs and job sharing. Not to mention the fact that federal employees enjoy first priority and subsidies at a number of top-notch day-care facilities.

-- Pay. In addition to these benefits, federal employees are paid relatively well. Salaries are set with regard to the market as well as local cost-of-living differences, which allows them to remain at least somewhat competitive. Federal jobs are classified in one of 15 successively higher pay grades, and each pay grade is divided into 10 steps. In addition to receiving an annual cost-of-living increase, federal employees are practically guaranteed periodic within-grade pay raises.

-- Protection. Also, federal employees cannot be unceremoniously fired. They can formally challenge personnel decisions by making an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, which has authority to review a wide range of matters, including removals, lengthy suspensions, reductions in grade or pay, denials of within-grade salary increases, and denials of restoration or reemployment rights.

Yet, that is not to say that federal employment is without its drawbacks. The federal government, as it turns out, has its fair share of bullies, sycophants and incompetents who pick on employees, display favoritism, mismanage operations and find creative ways to manipulate the rules to their advantage. I have heard of good employees who mysteriously develop incorrigible performance problems following a change in management; I have been told of positions that are created with particular individuals in mind and of people who are fast-tracked for promotion based upon personal relationships rather than qualifications.

By the same token, you are sure to find just as many inspired and supportive leaders in your federal career as you would in any thriving corporation.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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