Folks involved in the congressional budget process envy friends -- such as test pilots, brain surgeons and people who milk poisonous snakes -- with the easy jobs.
The Senate Budget Committee has finished the unrewarding task of proposing spending guidelines in complex, vital and politically touchy programs. It is trying to cut the federal deficit. To curb federal spending, the committee has assigned the second biggest batch of cuts (after Social Security) to the area of civil service pay and benefits. But what the committee says, what it did, and what it means are not always clear.
Difficult or not, the committee actions ought to be of interest to U.S. workers and retirees because their paychecks, pensions, promotions and jobs are on the line.
The budget process is complex. Congressional procedures for coming up with an alternative to the president's budget are complicated. That's why budget-watchers sometimes get different versions of what has happened.
This is what the committee has officially recommended -- subject to Senate approval -- in the civil service area:
* No federal pay raise next year. The next raise (3.8 percent) would come in January 1987 with another 4.7 percent adjustment in January 1988. The committee picked the freeze over the president's plan to cut pay 5 percent next year.
* Additional payroll savings would be made by requiring employes to wait an extra year before getting within-grade (longevity) step increases that are worth 3 percent.
* Cut federal jobs 4 percent starting this fall. The size of the cuts depends on whether the committee was talking about reductions in the size of the work force or whether it is talking about FTE's (full-time equivalents), a measure of annual work hours that the government uses. A 4 percent job cut could mean 75,000 to 80,000 positions; a 4 percent reduction in FTE's would mean even deeper personnel cuts.
* No change in the civil service retirement age. Instead the committee wants to raise employe contributions to the retirement fund from 7 to 9 percent of salary. That would start next year for postals -- who are not affected by the pay freeze plan -- and in 1987 for other workers.
* No increase in retiree benefits in 1986. Starting in 1987, retirees would get annual increases that are 2 percent less than the rise in living costs.
If the Senate approves the committee plan, it goes to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. It must translate the committee dollar cuts into reality, then send them back to the Senate. The House will start the same process after the Easter recess.
Lots could change. But for now, the above items are the major changes under consideration for civil servants and retirees.