As part of an effort to strengthen anti-terrorism and intelligence staffing at the FBI, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) is sponsoring legislation that would allow the agency to offer bonuses to hire and keep key employees.

Wolf chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the FBI, and to address some of the agency's personnel issues, he included a flexibility provision in a fiscal 2005 spending bill that was approved this week by the subcommittee.

FBI agents and other law enforcement officers have long complained that their pay has not kept pace with housing and other living costs in major metropolitan areas, especially in New York and California. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III recently told Wolf's subcommittee that the lack of competitive pay has hurt the agency's ability to retain experienced agents and analysts.

Wolf's legislation would give the director the authority, in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management, to provide retention and relocation bonuses to FBI employees who seem likely to leave the agency or who are being transferred to a location with a higher cost of living. A bonus could be as much as 50 percent of an employee's basic pay.

The legislation also would authorize the FBI to pay salaries of as much as $175,500 to people in critical intelligence positions.

About $30 million has been included in the 2005 spending bill to implement the bonus and pay changes, an aide to Wolf said.

In addition, the legislation would give the director more flexibility in handling retirements. It would allow the director, on a case-by-case basis, to delay mandatory retirement for FBI agents from age 57 to 65. The provision does not require agents to work past 57.

Currently, the FBI director may delay retirement until an agent reaches 60.

To help the FBI ramp up during emergencies, the legislation would create an FBI Reserve Service so the agency could activate retired employees with specialized skills. The provision would allow the FBI to bring back as many as 500 retirees in times of crisis and allow the retirees to collect a salary while continuing to receive their pensions.

Wolf considered raising "locality pay" rates for FBI agents. But he said yesterday that the idea triggered questions about whether higher rates also should be provided law enforcement officers in other agencies.

The House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), will examine that issue as part of a government-wide review of law enforcement pay this year, Wolf said.

Davis probably will take up the issue when Congress receives a Bush administration report on options for revamping compensation policy for federal law enforcement officers. The administration's report was due on Capitol Hill about two months ago.

TSP Going Toll-Free

Toll-free telephone service will be provided to participants in the Thrift Savings Plan, starting July 1, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board announced yesterday.

At the same time, the TSP will open a call center in Maryland. It will help TSP's New Orleans call center handle participant inquiries and will provide backup in the event storms or other problems disrupt TSP services.

Participants will be able to speak with TSP service representatives between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, the board's announcement said. Participants also will be able to obtain round-the-clock TSP account and transaction information through the plan's automated phone system, Thriftline.

The TSP has not offered toll-free phone service in the past because of cost and because many employees can call from their offices when they have benefit questions. But retirees and numerous employees, such as postal workers, did not have that option.

The new call center makes it possible for the TSP to offer a toll-free number "for just pennies per minute," said Gary A. Amelio, the board's executive director.

"It has troubled me that some employees and retirees have been underserved, and I am delighted that we are now able to remedy this situation," he said.

TSP participants in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will be able to make free calls to 1-877-968-3778. The new number also may be used for calls from Canada. The current number, 1-504-255-8777, should be used for all other international calls, the board said.