T he Federal Olympic Games are underway, too, but gold medals in several contests may not be decided in time for prime-time replays -- or even the closing ceremony.
Our first category is Pay Raise Wrestling, in which the Washington area team has scored points in the House Appropriations ring. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) have gone to the mat to obtain a 3.5 percent pay raise for civil service employees next year.
But don't count out the opponents, who support the president's plan to provide a 1.5 percent raise. Opponents still hope to pin Hoyer, Wolf and Moran by their shoulders, because rematches are allowed on Capitol Hill. The rematches could run from summer into winter as the opposing parties keep circling the budget, looking for advantage.
Still, the Hoyer-Wolf-Moran team should walk off with the laurels. It has a powerful ally in Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who can put a hammerlock on any last-minute opposition.
The Social Security Marathon is the second big competition category in the Federal Olympics -- and the contestants include the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and education associations that are trying to chase down two laws that go by the arcane names of Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision.
For 20 years, NARFE has lined up legislative sponsors to repeal or modify these laws, which trigger reductions in Social Security benefits.
The Government Pension Offset reduces an individual's spousal or survivor benefit under Social Security by two-thirds of the amount of the public pension. The Windfall Elimination Provision reduces Social Security for retirees who also receive a government pension. The two laws apply to about 6 million government workers, including 1 million federal employees, usually those covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System and hired before 1984.
In recent years, NARFE and its allies have covered a lot of miles. Congressional committees have held hearings on possible remedies, and many members of Congress have co-sponsored reform bills. That has encouraged NARFE, much like a cup of water at the 20th mile marker. The finish line, however, is not in sight.
The High Jump for Premium Conversion is another contest in which NARFE is looking for a sporting chance.
Since 2000, federal employees have paid their health insurance premiums with pretax dollars through a "premium conversion" program. But the tax code does not allow the perk to be extended to retirees.
At the urging of Davis, the House Government Reform Committee last year approved a bill that would alter the tax code and allow civil service retirees to pay their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premiums on a pretax basis.
But the bill needs to vault over the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax law changes and shows no interest in holding a hearing. The committee appears concerned about the cost and precedent it would set for the private sector.
NARFE plans to keep training for this high jump, a spokesman said. "While we are in our golden years," NARFE President Charles L. Fallis quipped, "we are not willing to settle for bronze."
Unions are competing in other arenas: fencing over "competitive sourcing" and boxing over administration plans to curb the role of organized labor at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Labor leaders have crossed epees with Bush appointees in a duel over federal jobs and whether contractors can perform them more efficiently and effectively. Both have scored some touches.
Union representatives also are trading punches with Pentagon officials over the creation of a new personnel system for Defense civilians and are hoping to avoid a TKO in their closed-door negotiations with Homeland Security over new workplace rules there.
Thousands of federal employees, meanwhile, are lining up for a favorite track event: the sprint to retirement. For most of them, the finish line is Dec. 31, a Friday.
Diary associate Eric Yoder contributed to this report.