Some federal workers--accustomed to last-minute surprises from Congress and the White House--are getting nervous because the pay tables, showing their year 2000 salary by grade and step, aren't available from the usual sources.

Because Congress has approved a 4.8 percent raise, many civil servants can't understand why we haven't published the new pay tables for the Washington-Baltimore area as per usual. What's up? they ask.

The short answer: There is no pay table, but your raise is safe.

Actually, interest in the pay tables extends well beyond the 360,000-plus actual recipients in the Washington-Baltimore area. Many alimony and child-support agreements are pegged to federal pay raises. So are increases for the staffs of many embassies, trade associations and unions in this area.

Congress set the year 2000 federal pay raise at an "average" of 4.8 percent. That's more than the 4.4 percent originally proposed. But even though 4.8 percent is official, it isn't over yet.

It is up to President Clinton to decide how much, if any, of the 4.8 percent raise to divert for locality pay adjustments. If, for example, he set a 3.8 percent across-the-board raise for all federal workers and allocated the remaining 1 percentage point for locality raises, feds in the Washington-Baltimore area would get a total adjustment of 4.94 percent.

Feds in San Francisco would get 5.59 percent, and civil servants in Norfolk would get 4.89 percent. Civil servants in Atlanta and Richmond would get 4.78 percent. Some in such cities as Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Huntsville, Ala., Indianapolis and Kansas City, Mo., would get even less. And so on.

But nobody can produce a pay chart until the locality pay issue is settled. Clinton has until Dec. 31 to decide.

Retirees' January COLA

Retired federal and military personnel, and people getting Social Security benefits, get annual adjustments each January to keep pace with inflation. That's a cost-of-living adjustment (as opposed to a pay raise). The January COLA for retirees, based on last year's inflation rate, will be 2.4 percent. The raise is automatic and will be reflected in checks retirees get in January.

Investment Guide

The Federal Employees News Digest has published a new edition of the "Your Thrift Savings Plan" guidebook. The open season for the federal 401(k) program began Nov. 15. Next year, the thrift savings plan will offer two new funds--a small capitalization index and an international stock index--in addition to the existing Treasury securities fund and the stock and bond index funds. For details on the guidebook, call 1-800-989-3363.

Health Insurance Shopping

At 9 a.m. Saturday on WUST-AM (1120), Walton Francis, author of the "Consumers' Checkbook Guide to Year 2000 Health Insurance Plans for Federal Employees," will talk about best and worst health plans for feds, retirees with and without Medicare and people with heavy prescription drug bills.

Management Blues

At 10 a.m. Saturday, also on WUST-AM, Ray Woolner, president of the Professional Managers Association, will tell what it's like to represent the shrinking number of federal managers and supervisors during a time of labor-management partnerships and management downsizing.

December Departures

Chief Administrative Law Judge Paul Merlin is retiring from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission after more than 40 years of federal service. He started as a lawyer with the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare and later was an administrative law judge with Interior. He's held the top legal post at the commission since 1982. His number one fan at the commission, according to a very, very highly placed fed, is Chairman Mary Lu Jordan.

The Defense Intelligence Agency's George Weber is retiring after more than 40 years in the national defense field as a fed and contractor. DIA is one of those places where people sometimes don't publicize their job descriptions. But a colleague of Webster's said he did what he did very well.

Bill Freed is retiring from the Department of Transportation this month after 37 years with Uncle Sam. He began as Treasury clerk, then worked at Commerce before moving to DoT, where he's acting director of human resources.

Timeout

I'll be out of the paper for the Thanksgiving holidays and back in this space on Tuesday, when we will resume some of the best buys, worst buys columns for health insurance hunters.

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