For useful information, reader-driven columns (questions, advice or tips) are hard to beat. We hope this one is useful. Here's what folks are asking about:

Early Retirement

Reader Ed Gursky has a common complaint. He reads about early retirement options but says "our personnel office recently sent out a notice that the law allowing government-wide early retirement authority will be expiring on Sept. 30, and that 'at this point, there is no guarantee that a new law granting such authority will be passed, or even debated' by Congress. What do you hear about an extension of the early-out law?"

Early-out authority does not expire Sept. 30. What happens on that date is that legislation permitting agencies to target early-outs to specific groups of workers--while denying them to employees the agency doesn't want to lose--expires. Bottom line: Early-outs will continue to be possible but, unless Congress extends the "targeted" early-out authority to agencies, many agencies won't risk offering early-outs because they would have to be extended to all employees.

Scholarships

Martin Happes writes, "You recently had an article about federal scholarships. Can you provide me with a list or Web site that gives me information on the program?"

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund provides limited scholarships and also arranges for student loans. FEEA, based in Littleton, Colo., is at 800-323-4140. The Web site is www.feea.org.

Dual Compensation

Gary A. Bomar asks about a recent column. It said that effective Oct. 1, the so-called dual compensation act will be repealed. The law requires retired regular (but not reserve) officers who take civilian federal jobs to forfeit 50 percent of their retired military pay above $10,450. Bomar asks whether the change will benefit only post-1997 retirees, as he has heard, or whether it covers all retirees.

Short answer: The repeal of the dual compensation law will cover all of the 6,000-plus retired regulars now working for Uncle Sam.

Dec. 31 Retirement Bonus

Kathie Everhart is one of many readers who asked for a follow-up on a recent Federal Diary that said that for many federal workers, the best day to retire this year is Dec. 31. In that Diary, benefits specialist Tammy Flanagan pointed out that "most feds retiring that day can accumulate all their earned leave for 1999 and be paid for this year's leave and for leave carried over from 1998 (normally limited to 240 hours). . . . Assuming a January pay raise of 4.4 percent (or 4.8 percent) the annual leave payment will be computed at the higher salary for employees retiring Dec. 31."

A number of readers asked for the date of the column, and also, is it true? Many say their personnel offices said the column was wrong.

The Office of Personnel Management confirms what Flanagan says. The same situation happened last year, but the magic date of retirement was different. Many federal personnel offices are confused by the admittedly complex situation. The bottom line is that retiring on that date, for most people, will let them cash in the maximum amount of annual leave at the higher (year 2000) pay rates. The Federal Diary explaining this was published June 25. The headline read: Why the Last Day of This Year Would Be a Good Time to Retire.

Back Pay

Lots of calls and letters from people interested in more information on the someday-back-pay settlement due employees who worked in special rate jobs any time between 1982 and 1988. The National Treasury Employees Union (as reported here Aug. 12) set up a special information hot line. But Erma L. Gaines wants more detail and asks for the name of the court case. Margo C. Vollmer says to save people long-distance charges, could we provide "a snail mail or e-mail address for obtaining information about the special rate case?"

Answers: The case, filed in January 1998 in federal Circuit Court in Washington, is called King v. NTEU; the hot line telephone number is 949-599-6022. Or write NTEU at 901 E St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C., 20004.

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

Monday, Aug. 30, 1999