When the ancients wanted to know the future, they consulted an oracle, gutted a sheep or had a trusted servant take notes while they snorted some good incense.

We have come a long way.

In modern, sophisticated Washington, fearful feds seeking a peak at coming events ask George. As in George Gould, lobbyist for the National Association of Letter Carriers. Seriously.

The NALC has one of the biggest (in terms of available cash) political action committees in the nation. This from a group whose membership's gross average pay is about $35,000 a year. That's less than many Washington lawyers pay for one of their cars.

Gould is the dean of the extremely well-connected federal-postal lobbying community. It includes some of the best and most effective people in that often trying profession. If you doubt their ability, check out the federal benefits package and find a group that has done more--through Congress--for its folks.

Gould is plugged into Capitol Hill. He's a fixture of the Democratic Club and, unlike some union leaders, is considered to be more pragmatic than idealistic.

Like most of the best lobbyists, Gould doesn't cry wolf--to scare the constituents--unless he sees wolf tracks. At the moment, he is seeing signs of trouble.

He recently briefed the Fund for Assuring an Independent Retirement coalition. FAIR is made up of groups, some that normally hate each other, that have one important thing in common. All their members--active and retired--are under one of what are probably the best federal pension programs in the country. They want to keep them that way. Their members also are under the federal health program.

Gould told the FAIR group that although this has been a great year for federal and postal workers, the next two months are a time of great danger. He worries that last-minute deals will be cut that could mean delays in cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees or changes in the federal health program. Despite a budget surplus, Gould told fellow lobbyists, spending caps are still in place, and there is a struggle over Medicare "reform," tax cuts and "a variety of politically attractive programs that cost money." When Congress starts looking for ways to cut costs--at the last minute--Gould says they often end-run the committee process and make surprise changes in appropriations or authorizing bills or in budget compromises.

His prediction for feds, postal workers and retirees: Buckle your fringe-benefit seat belts because there may be turbulence for the next couple of months.

Investment Track Record

Despite Wall Street's ups and downs, the federal 401(k) plan's C-fund (which tracks the S&P 500) continues to provide better long-term returns than other funds in the thrift savings plan. Plan investors can choose the C-fund, the F-fund (which tracks the bond market) or the super-safe G-fund, which is invested in guaranteed U.S. Treasury securities.

Retirees cannot invest in the plan--or any 401(k) plan--but those who have accounts when they retire can keep money in them. They can move existing balances from one fund to another but cannot add money to their accounts.

For the 12-month period ending in July, the C-fund returned 20.10 percent. That was despite a negative return of 3.14 percent in July. During the same period, the F-fund returned 2.47 percent while the G-fund returned 5.54 percent.

Back Pay Hot Line

The National Treasury Employees Union had to change its hot line number thanks to an overwhelming response from special-rate employees seeking information about a pending back-pay settlement.

Millions of dollars--in large and small amounts--are due workers who were in special-rate jobs between 1982 and 1988. Amounts due individuals are based on their salary at the time, and how long they were in special-rate status during the six-year period. The majority of special-raters are engineers and scientists. But a number of other feds--including medical personnel nationwide and GS 2 through 7 clericals in the Washington area--are also special-raters. Special rate means that because they are in hard-to-fill jobs, they make more than other civil servants in the same GS grade level.

NTEU's new hot line number is not a place where special-raters can register for back pay. Obviously, nobody should call unless they were in a special-rate category job between 1982 and 1988. Like the old information number (which appeared here Aug. 1), this one is likely to be busy much of the time. The new number is 949-599-6022.

Sunday, Aug. 15, 1999