People who think that recent reductions in the federal retirement program amount to a breach of contract by Uncle Sam will get their day in court soon.
The National Association of Retired Federal Employes has filed suit in U.S. District Court here against the Office of Personnel Management, seeking to overturn the cutbacks and to force the government to make good on what the association believes is owed former workers.
The suit alleges that Congress violated the constitutional rights of government retirees by taking away benefits that had been promised them while they worked.
Two years ago Congress voted to eliminate one of the two cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) that retirees get each year. It also provided for reduced COLAs through 1985 for retirees who are under 62.
The association contends that the congressional cutbacks--which had the support of the White House--are a violation of the Fifth Amendment because they deprive the retirees of property without due process.
The class action lawsuit (meaning it covers all federal retirees) names Donald Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and the U.S. government as defendants.
The association's lawyers are from the firm of Kator, Scott & Heller. A couple of those names should be familiar to the OPM: Irving Kator was assistant executive director at OPM and its predecessor agency, the Civil Service Commission, and Joseph Scott was OPM's deputy general counsel.
If the retired employes' association should win the lawsuit, the government could be forced to pay millions of dollars for COLAs or portions of the inflation-indexed raises denied.
The government, in similar previous lawsuits, has successfully defended the concept that no benefits contract exists between federal agencies and employes--since those benefits can be raised or lowered by Congress. The Supreme Court on at least two occasions has upheld the no-contract doctrine.
This time, the association will try to convince the court that what Congress did--in denying or reducing benefits established by law when the individuals retired--was unconstitutional, and in the case of the reduced COLAs for the younger retirees, amounts to age discrimination.