In the news business, a column titled "Answers to Your Many Questions" can be a tip-off that the writer has run out of ideas--or juice.

That may be true elsewhere but not in this space.

Columns such as this are reader-driven (not platforms for opinion) and exist in large part because people have questions about job security, pensions, pay raises, work rules and the like. Working for a company where the president is the CEO and Congress the board of directors, feds often find themselves bewitched, bothered and bewildered. For good reason. With that alibi firmly established, here are some, uh, answers to your many questions:

Question: "If I am hired by a congressional office, would this affect my civil service survivor annuity? I am not aware of any dual compensation restriction. Just wanted to verify this." -- Rita Pfeiffer

Answer: A civil service survivor annuity isn't subject to any dual compensation-type rules. In other words, someone getting a survivor benefit can go to work for the government, or anywhere else, and keep full pay and the survivor benefit. Enjoy life on Capitol Hill!

Question: "Will widows of government employees (still working at time of death) be eligible for the long-term care insurance program once it is initiated?" -- Jane Simanis

Answer: Good question. No solid answer available. Congress and the White House have said that federal civilian workers (and probably military personnel, too) will be eligible for group-rate long-term care coverage once the program is approved. So will retirees, spouses and very likely parents and parents-in-law. The status of former and surviving spouses (who can qualify for government life insurance by paying the full premium) is one of the many details Congress and the White House must decide.

Question: "I would like to know the chances of the government changing the law regarding the loss of sick leave by persons in/under the Federal Employees Retirement System."-- Charles Elin

Answer: Slim and none. Workers under the old Civil Service Retirement System can apply unused sick leave (not annual leave) toward retirement, once they have qualified for retirement. That is not true for sick leave earned under FERS. Congress set up FERS to be like a private-sector retirement program. Few, if any, companies give employees credit for unused sick leave. There is no move in Congress to change rules on unused sick leave for FERS-covered employees.

Question: "I currently work in the private sector but have seen several job announcements for federal positions I am qualified for. However, the problem I have is decoding the requirements and the criteria regarding who is eligible for or can apply for some federal positions. As an example, some jobs I have requested list qualifications I have. . . . However, [because of the wording of the job description] I am confused. Can you please shed some light on explaining these requirements?" -- J. Anderson

Answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of landing a federal job in the 1990s. An increasing number of federal jobs are restricted to people WHO ALREADY HAVE FEDERAL JOBS. They may say 'status required' or something like that. A growing number of federal jobs (largely because of union contracts) are restricted to people within the agency that is doing the hiring. The Federal Research Service, a private firm at 703-281-0200, publishes an excellent guide for federal job hunters that also explains the codes used to describe who can apply.

Question: "Do you have any info on how the newly enacted 3.4 percent pay raise for Congress will impact on the pay caps that are in place for members of the Senior Executive Service, and law enforcement officers on the general schedule pay scale." -- Bob Ross

Answer: The congressional pay raise lifts the caps, but President Clinton has the final word on raises for members of the SES. If he approves an raise, the maximum that "capped" SES members will get is 3.4 percent.

On the other hand, rank-and-file federal civilian workers will get an automatic pay raise in January. It will be either the 4.4 percent proposed by the president or the 4.8 percent that Congress is working on for military personnel.

Question: "What if my job is abolished? I am almost 55 and will have 20 years' service in about 13 months. If I were to be in a job that was abolished what would that mean for my retirement? Do I have to be 55 and have 20 years? I look forward to your reply." -- LBRAS

Answer: You would qualify for immediate benefits if you were age 50 with 20 years of service or any age with 25 years of service. But if you don't meet those age/service tests you would qualify for deferred retirement. Under the old Civil Service System, for example, your annuity would start (frozen at the time you retired) when you reached age 62.

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

Wednesday, July 28, 1999