Contributors to today's Monday Morning Quarterback section have questions or comments on what seem to be three of the top work-related issues with federal workers or retirees. They are buyouts, pay raises and the impact of the "windfall" law on the Social Security benefits earned by federal retirees.

We ran out of space for questions from retirees who are still inquiring about the size of their January cost-of-living adjustment (it now stands at 2.2 percent) and from those who want to know why their COLA is smaller than the 4.8 percent raise that active-duty feds are expected to get in January. Those issues were covered here, in great detail, in the Sept. 14 and Sept. 16 Federal Diaries.

Now for a COLA-free column:

Buyouts

"A recent column listed 10 federal agencies that have buyout authority. They are all part of the executive branch. What about the Judicial Branch. Does the buyout/downsizing apply to the Judiciary?"

-- Earl Kelton

A very timely question. First, make that 13 outfits with buyouts! Once President Clinton signs the Treasury, Postal Service, general government appropriation bill, buyouts will be authorized for two Treasury Department units--the Financial Management Service and the inspector general for tax administration--and the General Services Administration.

Congress has not acted on requests for buyout authority from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Agency for International Development. Nor has it acted on requests from the CIA and Energy Department to extend buyout deadlines. The CIA wants buyouts to last through Sept. 30, 2000. Energy would like to keep buyout authority through Jan. 1, 2002. During a buyout, agencies can pay workers up to $25,000 (before deductions) if they quit or take regular or early retirement.

The judiciary could be included in buyouts but hasn't been so far. Also, buyouts aren't limited to the executive branch. Two of the agencies with buyout authority, the Government Printing Office and the Architect of the Capitol, are legislative-branch agencies. In the past (but not now), the Library of Congress has offered buyouts.

Executive branch agencies with buyout authority include the Defense, Agriculture and Energy departments, the CIA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Bonneville Power Administration. Soon, the GSA and the two Treasury Department agencies will be added to the list.

Pay Comparability

"What I want to know is what happened to the federal pay comparability act that President George Bush signed before leaving office and that President Bill Clinton has ignored each year. . . . What stance do Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Albert Gore have on this issue? Can [the law] just be reinstated or is . . . new legislation required before pay raises that were guaranteed can be delivered?"

-- Chuck C., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Good question. President Clinton has reduced each pay raise due federal workers--under the bipartisan 1990 pay law--since taking office. But the law is still alive and on the books. The next president could comply with it--meaning bigger annual raises for federal workers--or continue to shave the raises.

The Clinton administration wants comparisons of federal and private-sector pay revised to include the value of fringe benefits. The feeling is that if that happened, the "gap" between federal and private-sector pay could narrow or disappear. There is no indication whether a Gore administration would follow the Clinton administration's lead or whether a new Bush administration would honor the letter of the pay law or seek to revise it.

There is no chance that any president--even a generous Donald Trump or a sympathetic Warren Beatty--would grant federal workers retroactive pay raises representing the amount they have "lost" through six years of so-called diet pay raises.

Social Security Windfall

"I heard a rumor that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was going to introduce a bill to remove or reduce the penalty on Social Security benefits for federal retirees. Is there any action in that area?"

-- Tom Wolford

The answer is yes and no. Frank introduced the bill this year. It would modify the so-called windfall reduction on Social Security benefits of some federal retirees. Under his plan, there would be no reduction if Social Security and civil service benefits combined were less than $2,000 a month. From $2,000 to $3,000, benefits would be subject to a partial reduction and above $3,000, Social Security benefits would be subject to the full reduction formula. Although Frank's bill has a record number of co-sponsors--similar legislation is introduced every year--it isn't likely to clear Congress this year.

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

Monday, Sept. 20, 1999