Congress and the White House will be making some multibillion dollar decisions over the next few weeks affecting paycheck and pensions of federal workers.
Hell-bent on cutting civil service retirement costs, Senate and House conferees on the revised budget will decide whether to make the one-per-year COST-OF-LIVING (COL) raise for U.S. retirees permanent, or a one-time change.
The senate has voted to skip the September 1980 COL raise due federal and postal retirees, then return to the twice-a-year (March and September) cycle beginning in 1981. The House Post Office-Civil Service Committee wants to give retirees the September 1980 raise, then skip the March 1981 raise. Its plan would reinstitute the twice-yearly COL raises beginning in September of 1981. That is unless, of course, Congress decides to make the one-shot COL permanent next year, after the elections.
The House plan, for a raise this year, has some big drawbacks for people nearing retirement. It would eliminate the feature which permits retirees to "look back" and get the dollar benefit of the last COL raise, and would also prorate the amount of the first COL they get upon retirement based on how long they had been retired. Both features would cost future retirees substantial amounts.
On the pay front, President Carter soon must decide how much of a white-collar federal pay hike he will propose to Congress. The raise -- supposed to be a catchup with industry and Not cost-of-living -- are due in October. Carter must send his plan to Congress by the end of August which is not that far away.
In January, Carter said the October pay raise should be 6.2 percent, if Congress "reformed" the measurement system government now uses to match federal vs. industry wages. Carter's plan, which had not made any headway in Congress, would compare the value of federal fringe benefits and wages against similar total compensation packages in industry.
New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that wages in industries government uses to measure its own pay progress went up 9.1 percent between March of 1979 and March of this year. During the same period the cost of living was up 14.7 percent.
The COL question for retirees should be decided within the next few weeks. The pay raises will remain a question mark a little while longer. Whatever the outcome, it is safe to say this has been a bad year, in Congress and from the White House, for most feds.