With Congress planning to recess at week's end, a bipartisan group of Capitol Hill aides is pushing for legislation that would provide enhanced dental and vision benefits to federal employees and retirees.

The aides said they hope to get the legislation on the Senate floor by Friday for a vote. Once the Senate has acted, House staff aides plan to line up the bill for approval in mid-November, when Congress returns to wrap up appropriations and other must-pass legislation for this fiscal year.

Assuming the legislation gets to the president and is signed before year's end, the Office of Personnel Management could award contracts next year to bring expanded dental and visions benefits to federal employees at the start of 2006.

The legislation is not controversial, in large part because it requires enrollees to pay for all premium costs. But congressional aides believe that the dental and vision benefits can be offered at affordable group rates through OPM's leveraging of the government's purchasing power.

Congressional hearings this year left little doubt that the government provides meager dental and vision coverage to government workers. In general, health care experts said, reimbursement levels and annual maximum benefits were much less than those provided by private-sector employers.

The legislation would grant OPM the authority to set up a voluntary program that used nationwide and regional companies to create benefit packages for federal employees and retirees. Aides said the dental program could provide a broad range of coverage, including oral and maxillofacial surgery and orthodontics. The vision program could cover preventive care and eyewear, for example.

The legislation's advocates include Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.).

CIA Terminations

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) has offered an amendment that would spell out the power of a new national intelligence director to fire employees of the CIA and of the intelligence agency that Congress is proposing to create.

The Senate is debating legislation to implement numerous recommendations of the 9/11 commission report, and Allard's spokeswoman said the amendment would clarify and define the personnel authority of the proposed national intelligence director.

Under Allard's amendment, the director could fire NID staff and CIA employees when "necessary or advisable in the interests of the United States." Dismissed employees could seek jobs elsewhere in the government if declared eligible by OPM.

The CIA, Allard said, operates under rules "not appropriate for today's security environment." An employee at the CIA, Allard said, "can engage in a lengthy appeals process, both internal and external to the agency, that could last at least a year. In my opinion, this practice is not in the best interests of the United States."

Mansfield Fellows

Federal employees with an interest in U.S.-Japan relations may apply now for a 2005 Mike Mansfield Fellowship. The two-year program includes language training and a year working in Japanese government offices. For more information about the fellowships, including information sessions, go to www.mansfieldfdn.org or call 202-347-1994.

Diary Live

The Thrift Savings Plan "open season," when federal employees may join or change their contributions, will begin Oct. 15.

To help you sort out investment options, Paul A. Yurachek, a lawyer and certified financial planner, will take questions and comments at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline. Please join us then or send a question in advance.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com