Despite July's stock market slide, federal workers who are invested in the C-fund (stock index) of their in-house 401(k) plan continue to outpace colleagues who are invested in the bond market fund or the super-safe Treasury securities fund.

For the 12-month period that ended in July, the return on the C-fund, which tracks the S&P 500 index, was 20.10 percent. In July the C-fund lost 3.14 percent, but in June it returned 5.45 percent. Proof, if anyone needed it, that the stock market goes up, and down.

During the same 12-month period, the return on the F-fund, which tracks the Lehman Brothers U.S. Aggregate bond index, was a weak 2.47 percent. The F-fund was down 0.43 percent in July, 0.33 percent in June and 0.89 percent in May.

Meanwhile, the return on the G-fund, invested in special issues of U.S. Treasury securities not available to the general public, was 5.54 percent. The G-fund has never had a losing month. In July it returned 0.52 percent, and in June it returned 0.49 percent.

Over the life of the federal thrift savings plan, workers who have invested exclusively in the C-fund have account balances four to five times higher than those of colleagues who invested exclusively in the other funds. In 1998, the C-fund returned 28.44 percent, the F-fund 8.70 percent and the G-fund 5.74 percent. In 1997, the C-fund returned 33.17 percent, the F-fund 9.60 percent and the G-fund 6.77 percent.

Next year, federal savings plan investors will have two new investment options. They will be able to invest in the international stock index fund and a U.S. small cap fund. Both offer the potential for higher returns along with the potential for much higher risks.

Diversity Training

The Office of Personnel Management is sponsoring a special training seminar in Washington Sept. 13 to 17 to emphasize that workplace diversity is more than just a political or feel-good program. OPM Director Janice R. Lachance says the first-in-a-series seminar will show managers and supervisors that developing workplace diversity will make the government more effective and efficient. She said many private firms have set up diversity programs and found that they result in "better customer service, increased market share and greater profits."

The first session will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Seminars are planned later for Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Denver. Those who register early (for the Washington session) can get a discount off the $1,000 registration fee. For details call the OPM at 304-870-8005 or by e-mail at: diversity@opm.gov.

Dispute Resolution

Preventing minor disputes from becoming expensive, time-consuming major issues is becoming big business. A growing number of federal agencies--and private firms--are using alternative dispute resolution programs to prevent workplace molehills from becoming legal mountains. To that end, the George Washington University's Ashburn campus has designed a two-week program to develop certified dispute prevention specialists. The first session begins Sept. 13 with another set for Nov. 15. It is co-sponsored by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Public Administration Forum. For details, call the forum at 202-466-6446 or visit its Web site, www.paf.org.

NASA Buyouts

Joanne Mueller points out that Tuesday's column incorrectly extended the time period when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration can offer employees buyouts worth up to $25,000. She ought to know. She is one of the folks running the bonus-to-retire program. NASA does have buyout authority. But it expires Sept. 30, 2000.

Card-Carrying Bear

A recent item here noted that Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service's mascot, had celebrated his 55th birthday. The issue came up when a reader asked--in jest--whether the bear had any rights under the civil service retirement program.

Now comes the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. It says that Smokey has been a NARFE member since he retired at age 25. Then-NARFE President John McClelland signed up Smokey at a special ceremony at the National Zoo. Conrad Reinke, of the Forest Service, filled in because Smokey slept through the induction ceremony. Even so, a NARFE spokesman said Smokey's retirement "is secured." Nearly 200,000 people--and one bear--belong to NARFE.

Benefits Q&A Session

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST radio (1120 AM), benefits specialist Rick Garnitz talks about ways federal and postal workers can maximize their retirement income, and about changes in the federal life insurance program. At 10 a.m., benefits specialist Jerry Sandaker and tax specialist Bob Liens will answer call-in questions about the financial side of working for--and paying taxes to--Uncle Sam.

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