Washington-based civil servants anxious to get the old tickers pumping ought to read occasionally what the out-of-town press says about them. It often reflects a very different viewpoint of our town's leading industry and the 13 percent of the federal work force employed here.
For example, on Aug. 15 more than a million newspaper readers in San Diego, Los Angeles and Dallas were treated to a piece about the federal retirement system. In it, Washington writer David Bovard said that former civil servants are the aristocrats of the nation's retirees.
The headline on the story, as it appeared in the Dallas Morning News editorial section, said: "Retirement From Federal Job Buys Ticket on a Gravy Train." Next to the story was a large, contented-looking hog with American flags for ears, and a dollar sign on his nose. The story said in part:
"Federal retirees are an aristocracy among senior citizens. Congress last year raised the eventual Social Security retirement age to 67, but the federal government's own can still retire will full 56 percent of salary pension at 55.
"Most federal retirees also get Social Security and often end up with benefits three or four times greater than private sector retirees receive.
" . . . This too-generous system is in financial trouble . . . . With the current system, every private worker in the U.S. will have to contribute an average of more than $4,000 for the federal employes retirement gravy train.
" . . . Congress is so generous to civil servants partly because congressmen are covered by the same pension system. . . . In order to funnel a few million into their own pockets congressmen are perpetuating a system that cost taxpayers more than $18 billion last year.
"Federal employes also clean up by double-dipping. A federal employe works until age 55 for the government, retires with a generous pension and then puts in a few years with a private company to qualify for Social Security.
"Since Social Security pays its highest benefits (in proportion to contributions) for those who work the shortest period, federal retirees stick taxpayers from both sides.
"Federal retirees first get excessive benefits from their own retirement system, and then pull in almost totally unearned Social Security benefits.
"Lucrative retirement benefits are also driving out the most experienced federal workers. During the 1970s, pension benefits increased more than twice as fast as pay for top federal executives. Currently, 75 percent of senior executives retire at the earliest possible age. The obvious solution is to reduce pension benefits.
"Federal retirement defenders claim the generous pensions are justified because they are funded by employe contributions. But contributing one dollar doesn't give someone the right to collect six or seven in return. Government workers now cover only 13 percent of the cost of the system: taxpayers pay for the other 87 percent.
"Another typical defense is the claim government should set a standard for good treatment of its employes. But since generosity to government employes always means heavier taxation of private workers, this argument doesn't carry much weight outside of the District of Columbia. . . . "
This column probably won't be a favorite of many federal workers or retirees. But it is worth knowing about, because a lot of people outside of the Washington area read it, and read things like it. And there are more of them than there are of us!