After a slow start on Capitol Hill, several bills that would (mostly) benefit federal workers and their families are being approved, beginning to move or at least taking shape. Examples:

* The amount of the January 2000 pay raise probably will be bumped up from the 4.4 percent proposed by President Clinton to the same 4.8 percent raise that Congress is set to approve for uniformed military personnel. Congress has passed three sense-of-Congress resolutions--two of them pushed by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)--calling for "parity" in the next pay raise. That means civilians should get the same percentage as military personnel.

Although the bipartisan resolutions aren't binding, they are a clear message to the White House that the higher amount for civil servants is the smart political move. It would be a relatively inexpensive way for the White House to give federal union leaders--who have seen government downsized, "reinvented" and privatized--something to pass on to their members. And it would help Vice President Gore's prospects with federal unions in getting the Democratic presidential nomination.

The seemingly modest difference between 4.4 percent and 4.8 percent would benefit most employees in both the short term and over the long haul. Workers who retire at the end of this year and cash in on large amounts of unused annual leave would have it paid at the higher, year 2000 rate. Any increase boosts the face value of most employees' federal life insurance policy. Any increase also increases the future value of pensions, which are based on a retiree's highest three-year average salary.

* Long Term Care for federal workers, military personnel, selected family members and retirees has become a distinct reality. The plan--to provide coverage at group rates for workers, military personnel, retirees, children, parents and parents-in-law--has been dead in the water for years. That's because Democrats and Republicans couldn't agree on the amount of federal control in setting premiums and benefits.

Now Republicans--as outlined here Friday--have softened their objections to having the Office of Personnel Management manage the LTC program much as it does the federal health insurance program. The new, primary issue to be ironed out: whether the first-offering of LTC will be limited to one company or as many as half a dozen. Republicans want workers and retirees to have maximum choices--as under the federal health program--rather than be limited to a single choice as under the federal group life program.

If LTC is approved this year, it could be up and running as early as 2001.

* Federal agencies would be able to give financial help to low-income employees to help pay for day care, thanks to language in the House-passed Treasury Postal Service Appropriations Bill. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) proposed extending the day-care subsidy program--already enjoyed by some Defense Department civilians--to other federal agencies. Making it part of the Treasury Postal money bill virtually assures approval when the House and Senate go to conference.

No News Is Good News

What isn't happening in Congress is almost as significant as what is moving along.

The usual proposals to save money--by delaying or diluting cost-of-living adjustments for federal and military retirees--haven't surfaced. Low inflation is one reason.

Retirees--federal, military and those under Social Security--get true cost-of-living adjustments each January. They reflect the rise in the Consumer Price Index from the third quarter of the current year over the third quarter of the previous year.

This year, retirees got a 1.3 percent COLA compared with the 3.68 percent pay raise (which is not linked to living costs) for federal workers.

The next retiree/Social Security COLA is likely to be equally low. With only two months to go in the COLA countdown, the January 2000 raise for retirees stands at about 1.8 percent. That could go up if living costs rise for the months of July and August.

Sing for Your Subsidy

In their quest for transit subsidies, normally gentle Library of Congress employees think they have discovered a secret weapon. It is a song that apparently melts the hardest management hearts, and makes politicians both sympathetic and helpful.

The risk to you: Once heard, the song may be with you forever. If you want the words (you already know the music) and dare to learn more, check this space tomorrow.

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

Sunday, July 18, 1999