Say the words "double dipper' in Memphis or Des Moines and you will get a big ice cream. Say the same thing here and you'll get an argument.
Political fireworks are due next Tuesday when House hearings begin on what to do about "double dippers." That is the unflattering term used to describe the 141,000 retired military personnel who get an estimated $1 bildition to regular government salaries for their second careers as civilian bureaucrats.
Rep. Robert N.C. Nix (D-Pa.) says something has to be done about the dual compensation system that directly affects 5 per cent of the federal work force. Most military retirees don't get very much. But Nix says there are at least 10 former admirals and generals who moved over to the civilian arm of government and who now get more from Uncle Sam than either Vice President Mondale or Chief Justice Burger, whose salaries are $80,000 a year.
Washington is heavy with retired officers in middle and top government jobs who left the military after 20 years but didn't want to retire.
When the last study was made (as of June, 1975) there were 176 former generals and admirals on the government payroll as civilians, and 127 of them work here. The Post Office-Civil Service Committee that Nix heads wants to know more about how, andwhy, they got their jobs.
When federal civilian employees retire from the government and then are rehired, they must take a pay or pension reduction. But many military retirees who go to work for Uncle Sam get all their pension, plus their full civilian salary. Some people think that is fair. Some don't.
President Carter says he had problems with the system. He has a panel studying it. Its report should be due about the time Nix's committee finishes its hearings and comes up with a bill dealing with the question of dual compensation.
The impact of military retirees in, and on, the government is tremendous, both in dollard and policy. Consider these items that the White House and Congress are looking at:
There are 141,817 retired military people now working as civilian federal employees. That is about 5 per cent of the government work force.
Eight of every 100 Defense Department civilians retired from either the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.
The 11,793 retired enlisted personnel and 27,000 retired reserve officers can keep their full military pensions and full civilian salaries.
The 5,164 retired regular officers get to keep the first $4,045 of their military pension plus half the remainder if they take a government job.
More than 78,000 military retirees work of the Army, Navy or Air Force as civilian employees. Is there a "buddy system" in hiring and promotion? Is that bad?
Although retired enlisted personnel outnumber retired officers in government jobs, the breakdown here is almost 50-50. In one Washington area, there are 5,166 retired officers in government civilian jobs and 6,278 retired enlisted personnel.
At least 25 military retirees make $60,000 a year in pension and salary payments from the government.
The U.S. Postal Service has the second largest number of retired military personnel working for it nearly 35,000 of a work force of 600,000.
Veterans Administration has 7,288 military retirees; Department of Transportation, 3,585. Treasury has nearly 3,000, while HEW and General Services Administration each has more than 2,000 retired military workers.
Nobody knows what the Nix Committee will propose until hearings are finished. BUt if asks any changes in the dual compensation system that will cost military retirees the pensions they feel they earned, somebody may have to rewrite that song about old soldiers just fading away.