Federal workers (including some retired officers) in all agencies have good reason to track the progress of the Defense Department authorization bill.

Versions approved by the Senate and House call for a 4.8 percent January pay raise for military personnel. Unions and pro-fed politicians hope to piggyback on the military raise and bypass the 4.4 percent raise proposed by President Clinton for the federal civilian work force.

Even that seemingly small difference is a big deal. Each raise increases the value of an employee's life insurance, lump-sum vacation payments, 401(k) contributions and lifetime retirement benefits.

Pay raises also help workers offset increased costs such as a 10 percent average increase in health premiums expected in January.

The Senate approved its version of the authorization package (S 1059) late in May. The House version (HR 1401) was cleared last week. The next step is for Senate-House conferees to iron out differences in the two versions. That will happen sometime this summer.

Retired regular military officers who now work as civilians for Uncle Sam also have a major stake in the final version of the Defense authorization bill. The Senate version would repeal "dual compensation" restrictions. Under those restrictions, retired regular officers (but not reserve officers) give up half their retired military pay in excess of $10,450 if they take a federal civil service job. The law also caps at $110,700 a year a retired regular officer's combined retired military pay and federal civil service pay.

The Retired Officers Association says the dual compensation law affects 5,984 retired regular officers. The group says 162 of them lose money because of the pay cap.

Waivers to the dual compensation law -- allowing people to draw both full retired military pay and full civil service pay -- have been granted to about 500 individuals during the last 10 years. In each case, the agency certified that it had to have the individual because of special skills or knowledge and needed to be able to pay the maximum amount.

Federal unions are concerned that repealing the dual compensation law would make it more attractive for high-ranking officers near retirement to carve out special jobs for themselves in the civil service. Backers of repeal say the law is discriminatory and causes some of the best and brightest military retirees to avoid civilian service.

Customs Service Salaries

Michael Styles, president of the Federal Managers Association, has urged the Senate not to approve pay cut language in the Customs Service reauthorization bill. The proposal, outlined in the Federal Dairy previously, would change the way premium pay and overtime are calculated for Customs inspectors, who routinely work rotating shifts.

Styles says anything that would cut the pay of Customs personnel "who are fighting on the front lines in the war on drugs" is bad business.

Keep It Simple!

In a recent Federal Diary, a retired federal worker said his monthly annuity check had been "lost" or "delayed" a couple of times. He suspects a government ploy to force him to sign up for direct deposit so that his monthly check will be deposited electronically in his bank. Several other retirees who still get their monthly annuity checks at home also suspect a government conspiracy to force them into direct deposit.

But Mel Briscoe, of Alexandria, says there is another, more likely explanation for lost and delayed annuity checks. He offers this wonderful quote:

"Do not confuse Machiavellian actions with simple incompetence."

Enough said!

Retiring Type

The Agency for International Development's Dick Eney is retiring this month after 38 years of federal service. He's now with AID's equal opportunity programs, but earlier assignments took him to hot spots such as Vietnam, Tanzania and Ethiopia and to the budget office of the agency's Africa bureau.

Department of Ouch!!!!

If there is anything that a Democratic secretary of labor hates, it is crossing a picket line -- especially one made up of Labor Department workers and set up at the entrance to the department's headquarters.

But that's likely to happen today as members of the American Federation of Government Employees do some informational picketing. They say the department has failed to deal with worker grievances in good faith.

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

Wednesday, June 16, 1999