Years ago a movie star -- let's call him Johnny Angel -- died of a heart attack in a Manhattan hotel. He checked out in the embrace of a woman who was not Mrs. Johnny Angel.

The New York tabloids loved it.

According to newspaper old-timers, the tabloid headlines treated the event something like this:

First day headline: JOHNNY ANGEL DEAD!!!

The next day's headline: ANGEL'S MIDTOWN LOVE NEST!!!

Third-day banner headline: ANGEL MYSTERY MOLL MUM!!!

By the fourth day, the papers had run out of juice. But one tried to milk the story for one more issue. The headline cried: JOHNNY ANGEL STILL DEAD!!!

How's that for backing into a midyear report on congressional non-action on the civil service front?

Interested federal workers keep asking: What's happening? Answer: Not much!

Congress and the White House rarely give civil service matters top priority -- especially when election campaigns loom. Also, Congress has been away much of the year. It is just back from a very long Memorial Day holiday. Next is a very long Independence Day holiday, followed by most of August off. Then there is the Labor Day holiday. Then adjournment in October. So little time, so much to do.

Though not much is happening on the civil service front, many folks are still interested.

Given the situation, here's an update on where key proposals are.

* Long-term care: Both Congress and the White House want a long-term care insurance program for federal workers and retirees. Republicans want rates and benefits set by competing insurance companies. Democrats want the government to negotiate premiums and benefits. That's a roadblock, but it can be overcome. Or not.

Setting up long-term care coverage is something else. What would including parents and parents-in-law (along with spouses and retirees) mean? Would parents of retirees be included, too? If so, you are talking about some very old people, prime candidates for immediate benefits. Will they be required to take a physical or agree to a waiting period before they can receive benefits? Nobody knows. As previously reported in the Federal Diary, once long-term care insurance is approved, it could be a year to 18 months before the program is implemented.

* Pay raises: In January, federal civil servants probably will get either the 4.4 percent raise proposed by President Clinton or the 4.8 percent raise that Congress is pushing for military personnel. The final figure won't be known until at least late August, and it could take until late October. But there is no action or day-to-day movement or change to report.

* "Windfall" and "offset": Congress has shown more interest this year than before in revising the so-called windfall and offset laws. The former can reduce the Social Security benefit earned by a federal retiree. The latter can eliminate the spousal Social Security benefit of a federal retiree. Each month, a few more House and Senate members sign on as co-sponsors to legislation that would revise one or the other. But that is no guarantee of action this year, and there are no daily ups, downs or changes to report.

* Wrong retirement plan: The House, as it did last year, has passed a bill to "make whole" federal workers who have missed out on big investment gains because they were incorrectly placed in the old Civil Service Retirement System (with its more-generous annuity), instead of the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (with its better 401(k) option). But the Clinton administration, again, says the House plan would provide a taxpayer-financed "windfall" and is not the solution it prefers. Last year, the Senate agreed with the White House, which led to a stalemate. There is no sign the House and Senate can reach a compromise. So while the issue is alive, the plan is like Johnny Angel. Still dead!

Safe Investment Bet

Money in the G-fund (Treasury securities) of the thrift savings plan will be invested at 6 percent for June. The G-fund rate is guaranteed by the government and is set monthly by the Treasury Department. Over the life of the federal 401(k) plan, the G-fund and the F-fund (bond index) have been outpaced four or five to one by the higher-risk C-fund (stock index). But the G-fund, unlike the stock and bond funds, never has a losing month.

Federal workers have until the end of July to join the thrift savings plan. Those who are in it already can reallocate future payroll contributions. Next year, the savings plan will offer two additional funds: an international stock index fund and a small cap fund.

Retirees who were in the savings plan when they left government can remain in it, and they can move funds around. But they cannot add to their accounts. And retirees cannot join the savings plan.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Tuesday, June 15, 1999