The conventional wisdom--at least in Washington--is that election years are when federal workers have the best chance of getting a juicy pay raise. The idea is that an incumbent president can help himself (or his party's candidate) to several million easy votes by giving federal employees--and their appreciative spouses--a bigger-than-usual raise.

But what passes for logic inside the Capital Beltway doesn't always make sense out where most Americans (and their elected representatives) call home. Jimmy Carter was the last president to give federal employees a super-generous increase. He announced a 9.1 percent white-collar raise (remember those were the days of double-digit inflation) just before the election. He lost.

Something like that--a battle for the hearts and minds of federal workers--is taking place within the administration.

Those who are drawing up the president's budget must decide how much they can (and should) give federal workers in 2001. Right now, the figure is hovering around 3.5 percent. But that could go up or down based on political decisions and private-sector pay changes this year.

If the figure is too low to suit pro-federal worker politicians (and unions), they may do what they did last year: Demand parity with any 2001 military pay increase. That's what happened this year: Congress raised the 4.4 percent President Clinton had proposed for civil servants to the 4.8 percent Congress approved for uniformed military personnel.

One thing for sure. It won't be 9.1 percent no matter how well--or badly--the Democratic presidential candidate is doing when the final decision is made.

Departures The U.S. Army Security Assistance Command's security officer, Spencer Charles, has retired after nearly 42 years with Uncle Sam.

His first career, in an Air Force uniform, lasted 22 years. He then joined the Postal Service before moving to USASAC to set up its security program and information-disclosure system.

Not to be outdone in the longevity department, Milt Lichtman, of the Internal Revenue Service's office of chief counsel, has retired after 46 years of federal service.

Dueling Adjustments Federal workers who retired under the regular Civil Service Retirement System got a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January. That reflects the rise in living costs from the third quarter (July, August and September) of 1998 to the third quarter of 1999.

But federal workers who are retired for job-related injury or illness under the FECA (Federal Employees Compensation Act) program will be getting an adjustment of 2.7 percent later this year.

Why the difference if both are based on the rise in inflation?

The simple answer is that regular retiree adjustments are based on changes in the consumer price index from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next, whereas the disability adjustments are based on the changes from fourth quarter to fourth quarter. Over time, the adjustments even out, although regular and FECA retirees get slightly different amounts each year based on slightly different effective dates.

Federal workers--whose pay raises aren't linked to the cost of living--got an average 4.8 percent raise this year. The combined national and locality adjustment for white-collar federal workers in the Washington-Baltimore area was 4.94 percent.

Long-Term Care/Offset Bills The National Association of Retired Federal Employees says that lobbying back home by its members has persuaded a half-dozen House members to sign on as co-sponsors of bills to set up a long-term care insurance program for federal and military personnel and to back legislation that would modify the "offset" law, which can eliminate the spousal Social Security benefit of a federal retiree.

Thanks to a coalition of unions and organizations representing federal workers, retirees and military personnel, a record number of House and Senate members have co-sponsored long-term care insurance legislation and bills aimed at modifying the Social Security "windfall" and "offset" laws.

Those bills will be alive in the upcoming session of Congress, which is set to begin next week.

NOAA TB Screening The National Oceanic and Atmospherics Administration's facilities office is offering a free tuberculosis screening to employees.

An employee on the eight floor of SSMC 4 is said to have TB, although that has not been officially confirmed.

Screening for concerned employees started last week. For details, contact the health unit at 301-713-0545.

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

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2000