Federal workers retiring in the future at age 55 would have their pensions trimmed 14 percent under an early retirement "reform" being proposed -- again -- by the president.

No job-related proposal in modern times has so frightened and angered U.S. workers as the five-year attempt (so far unsuccessful) to boost the government's retirement age. Although Congress has rejected the plan in the past, the odds have changed because of the new bipartisan emphasis on budget cutting.

Federal and postal workers may now retire at age 55, after 30 years' service, on an annuity equal to 56.25 percent of their highest three-year average salary. To get a full benefit (80 percent of salary), they must work almost 42 years. Civil service benefits are based on salary and length of service.

What the president wants is to make the federal system more like private pension plans that penalize workers who retire before age 62.

If Congress goes along it would still allow federal workers to retire at 55 (after 30 years), but their pensions would be reduced 2 percent a year for each year that they are under age 62.

Employes who are 55 or older at the time of enactment -- assuming that Congress approves the proposal -- would be grandfathered in under the current civil service retirement rules. They could retire anytime in the future before the age of 62 without penalty.

Employes who are 54 at the time of enactment would be subject to a 0.5 percent penalty for each year they retired under age 62. Those who were 53 would be hit with a penalty of 1 percent a year; those age 52 would take a 1 1/2 percent penalty, and those 51 and younger would be subject to the full penalty of 2 percent per year.

To make this complicated procedure a little less so, take the example of an employe who can now expect -- at age 55 after 30 years' service -- to retire on an annuity of $1,000 a month. For the employe who is 55 or older at time of enactment there would be no early-retirement penalty.

For an employe age 54 at time of enactment, retirement at age 55 (with 30 years' service) would still be possible, but there would be a 0.5 percent penalty for each year under age 62, reducing the annuity to $965 a month.

The 53-year-old (at time of enactment) retiring at age 55 would be hit by a penalty reducing the annuity to $930.

An employe who is 52 at time of enactment would be hit by a penalty reducing the $1,000 pension to $895.

Workers who are 51 at the time of enactment would get an annuity -- after penalty -- of $860.

Employes who are age 50 or younger at time of enactment would -- if they retired at age 55 after 30 years -- be hit by a 14 percent penalty -- 2 percent a year for each year under age 62.

There is no way of telling if Congress, which has rejected the higher retirement age in previous years, will buy it. If Congress does go along with the plan, it will be months before anything is final.

Federal workers certainly have reason to be concerned. But they shouldn't panic. They can work through unions, retiree groups and professional organizations to fight the change. What nobody can do is change the day, month or year he or she was born.