Federal retirees shouldn't be getting workers' comp, senator says

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 6:34 PM

To ensure that people too old to work aren't cheating the system, Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) wants the Government Accountability Office to study the program that provides income to injured federal workers.

About 49,000 people get benefits from the Federal Employee Compensation Act, some of them well into retirement age, according to Collins.

"I am increasingly concerned that individuals with no intention of returning to work continue to receive these benefits," she said. "At the U.S. Postal Service, for example, 1,000 employees currently receiving federal workers' compensation benefits are 80 years or older. Incredibly, 132 of these individuals are 90 and older and there are three who are 98.

"This abuse may extend across the government where the Department of Labor regularly pays benefits to employees in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 100s. The lack of benefit caps and requirements for regular third-party certifications of continued need further expose the FECA program to possible fraud. If recipients are gaming this crucial benefit at taxpayers' expense, they must be exposed and the underlying program must be reformed."

She asked GAO to report on the length of time people stay on the program, the number of recipients who get compensation benefits beyond retirement age and how the program compares with state workers' compensation programs.

Beth Moten, legislative and political director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union maintains that any review should "include a comprehensive analysis of why Transportation Security Administration officers incur on-the-job injuries at a much higher rate than other federal employees."

Furlough bill, again

Although the pay of federal employees already has been frozen for two years, that's not enough for Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.). He has introduced, again, legislation that would cut their pay by imposing a two-week unpaid furlough in 2012.

Coffman introduced similar legislation last year but it didn't get far in the Democratically controlled Congress. With Republicans running the House, his bill should have a greater chance of success in that chamber, though its chances for approval by the Senate are less likely.

"Furloughs are becoming commonplace for state and local governments, and it's only reasonable for the federal government to follow suit," Coffman said. National security, public health, public safety and law enforcement employees would be excluded. Employees would be required to spread their furlough days throughout the year to lessen the impact on service.

To his credit, Coffman also would include members of Congress in the sacrifice. He would cut their salaries by 10 percent. Overall, he expects his legislation would save about $5.5 billion.

"I want to make the U.S. government as cost-conscious as the states," Coffman said. "At least 24 states have enacted similar budget-cutting measures, while the federal government continues to grow and rack up debt." His news release announcing the legislation did not acknowledge that a federal freeze is in place.

AFGE President John Gage said "requiring federal employees to take two weeks of unpaid leave would have a detrimental impact on the federal services and programs that millions of American taxpayers depend on each and every day. . . . Federal employees take a public oath to faithfully carry out the jobs they are hired to perform, and forcing them to take leave without pay goes against this sworn obligation."

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