One of every 10 U.S. civil servants is eligible to retire. Right now! Today!
That is a lot of people, and it includes at least 35,000 long-service feds living and working in the Washington area.
More than 260,000 federal employes have put in enough time, and passed enough birthdays, to retire any time. A very large number of them -- perhaps as many as 70,000 -- are actively considering retirement within the next couple of weeks. All are waiting to see what Congress will do to them.
Employes are worried about recent assaults on the federal pension program: from talk about merging it with the totally unrelated social security system to action, next week, to cut back cost-of-living (COL) raises now due retirees by federal law.
The Senate has already approved a plan to make a one-shot budget savings by eliminating the COL raise retirees are due in September Under the Senate-passed plan U.S. retirees would not get the 7.7 percent COL boost due them this year. Instead they would get a full inflation catchup in March 1981.
The House, on the other hand, is putting the finishing touches on a plan that would let federal, postal and military retirees get the September raise, but make them skip the March 1981 adjustment.
The Senate and House plans to skip one of the two COLs due retirees are both "temporary" measures. But there is no guarantee that Congress won't decide next year to make that "temporary" cutback in the frequency of COL raises permanent. The White House favors one COL per year for government and military personnel.
The when-to-retire decision is further complicated because the bill pending before the House Rules Committee (for September raise, skipping next March's COL boost) makes some significant changes in benefits due those about-to-retire.
Under the House plan, the so-called "look-back" provision would be eliminated. That means employes who retire would not get the benefit of the last COL adjustment, as they do now. In addition, the House proposal knocks new retirees out of getting most or all of the COL adjustment that comes due after they retire.
Presently, retirees can quit the day before a COL comes due (in this case they could quit Aug. 31 and get the full benefit of the 7.7 percent COL due Sept. 1) and take advantage of the "look-back" to the last raise, and get the full amount of the COL raise.
The House bill would eliminate look-back, and prorate the amount of the upcoming COL raise based on the actual length of time an individual was retired. So instead of getting all of the 7.7 percent September COL adjustment, new retirees would get only a fraction of it, based on when they actually retired.
Uncertainty over which bill will become law -- and the effective date of the next COL -- is bothering many workers. And who can blame them?
Whether the changes are justified or not, the fact is that Congress is preparing to change the rules of the retirement game just as thousands of people are preparing to end their careers. Had they known earlier this year that some benefits were to be chopped, many would have made different plans. Now all they can do is sit and hope the ax doesn't fall too hard.
Here is the congressional timetable for acting on the retiree raise issue:
The Senate has already approved its bill which would skip the September raise, and give retirees a full COL in March 1981. The Senate bill does not make any other changes.
The House measure -- with the September COL paydate and the major changes in "look-back" and prorating -- will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Monday or Tuesday. Then it should go to the full, House for debate, and vote by Aug. 20 or 21.
After the House approves a bill its measures will go to a Senate-House conference committee to iron out a final version. Then to the White House.
There is one hope for the two-COL formula, and for people planning to retire this month. That is the Congress, in its widsom and/or haste, does nothing.
If Congress fails to change the law before Sept. 1, the 7.7 percent raise will go into effect automatically in October. And persons retiring before the Sept. 1 effective date will get full benefit on the new COL, plus benefits of the look-back provision.