In today's Monday Morning Quarterback section, a reader predicts that some people who join the new Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) may wind up with poverty-level pensions. Another points out that federal pensions will never be safe until the retirement fund is declared off limits to politicians.
Finally, a second-generation civil servant comments that efforts to privatize the government remind us of that unkind definition of a consultant: somebody who borrows your watch, tells you the time and then sends you a bill.
This is what some of your friends and neighbors are saying:
"The new FERS pension system is another example of how benefits have fallen. The government says the new system is much less costly than the old plan. But estimates of the cost of FERS are grossly overstated because of the assumption that most federal workers will participate heavily in the tax-deferred savings plan. That participation is essential because FERS provides a much smaller basic pension. But since workers already have 8 percent of pay deducted for retirement or Social Security, few mid- or low-income workers will have anything left to put in the savings plan.
"High-income workers will have the amounts they can contribute reduced if lower-income workers can't or don't invest the maximum amount. In either case, the government's cost for the new pension plan is substantially lower because it doesn't have to match employe contributions as in the old plan. The overwhelming majority of workers retiring under FERS will be living barely over the poverty level." G.B., Woodbridge
"Your Aug. 2 column reported the lump sum pension scam by revenue-hungry members of Congress who found a way to tax a previously tax-free benefit as part of the tax reform law.
"It is well to remember that no predatory action by any arm of government would have been possible if the civil service retirement trust fund were operated as a true trust outside of the Treasury's petty cash till. That would be the case had former President Johnson not taught his successors the profit to be found by dipping into the civil service fund." C.J.M., Bethesda
"A recent article in praise of privatization by Constance Horner, director of the Office of Personnel Management, revealed her short-sightedness. My parents and I have spent eight decades in the federal service, as translators or librarians. We've observed that services aren't always improved when contracted out.
"Like most federal workers we qualify for our jobs with degrees, tests, etc. Once contracted out, it is harder to ensure that services will be performed by qualified workers.
"My mother's translating job was once eliminated . . . on grounds a contractor would be cheaper. She got a more lowly job in the same agency. Soon the engineers were coming to her to translate the translations they were getting from the contractor. Picture this: First, she's superfluous, then they want her to do her old job, on the side under the counter. Rules prohibited this abuse of her good nature. Finally she got a job using her abilities in another agency.
"Now I hear that federal libraries are short-changed when the work is contracted out. Worst of all, when the contract must be put up for bidding again, if a new bidder gets it there is a new period of adjustment. Some experience is lost irretrievably. Instead of institutional memory we have reinvention of the wheel . . . . " P.T.H., Washington