A blue-ribbon panel that is supposed to have the president's ear on federal pay matters has advised him to postpone surgery on fringe benefits until the pay of government managers, clerks and scientists is brought up to private industry levels.
The report, by the Advisory Committee on Federal Pay, has been ignored since being delivered to the White House two months ago. And no wonder!
Chairman Jerome M. Rosow, a former official of the Nixon administration, says that government workers have been kicked around for so long, by so many present that a lot of them have lost some self-esteem -- not to mention some purchasing power.
The committee says that the administration and Congress should embark on a three- to five-year program of upgrading white-collar salaries (which it says are 14.5 percent lower than industry) and stop chopping the nonpay side of government until "comparability" with the private sector is achieved.
"Only after comparability pay has been restored should reforms apply to employe benefits," the report says. "Safeguards are needed to prevent unilateral reductions in pension or other benefits that will simply further aggravate depressed pay and, therefore, doubly penalize employes."
The committee, which has been advising -- and generally being ignored by -- presidents since 1970, says the recent 4 percent pay raise will be eaten up by higher health premiums, the new 1.3 percent Medicare tax on government workers, and the 7 percent workers pay for pensions that are becoming less attractive.
This committee is hardly a bunch of bureaucrat-worshippers or lackeys of federal unions.
In addition to Rosow (once a high oil company official), the group includes Eva Robins, a prominent lawyer and arbitrator, and Lazard Freres & Co. partner Frank Zarb, who served as "energy czar" under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
The committee also says that a new statutory body "of persons of national repute" should be set up to make annual reviews of congressional and judicial salaries. The refusal by members of Congress to raise their own pay (because of the political repercussions) acts as a lid on salaries for top government executives.
There is no reason to believe this year's committee report -- the gloomiest it has ever issued--will get any more attention than any in the past.
There are a lot of people outside of government who think that federal workers are still riding a gravy train; that pay is too high, benefits are overly generous and lifetime job security is a given.
But there are a growing number of people who think the day-to-day government is in bad shape and that its employes just may have a point when they say they are being short-changed, and singled out for especially harsh treatment. And if they are right, somebody on high ought to consider if we can really afford a bargain-basement bureaucracy.
Help is supposed to be on the way for feds who are wondering what to do about their 1983 health insurance coverage. Premiums are going up an average of 24 percent next year. Many plans have made benefit changes too.
Federal employes will have an "open season" from Nov. 22 until Dec. 10 to pick the plan they want to cover them and their families next year. The federal health program covers 9.2 million workers, family members and retirees, including nearly half the population of metro Washington.
Before the open season, employes are supposed to get--at the office -- a copy of a chart that compares rates, and another chart that compares major benefits offered by each of the health plans.
Office of Personnel Management says those charts are being printed up and will be distributed to agencies shortly. Your agency is supposed to supply you with copies. If you want more detailed information -- from the brochures of individual plans.