All of the good things that federal workers got from Congress this year came in the last week of the session. That says something about election year politics.
The even better news is what Congress did not do. It did not raise the retirement age; it did not force employes to put more money into their pension fund, and it did not preside over, or permit, major layoffs this year.
What did happen is that warring House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House -- who couldn't agree on a pro-motherhood proclamation for most of the year -- reached a last-minute compromise on a three-part omnibus bill. Directly benefiting will be 100,000 government supervisors, about 6,000 senior government executives and a number of former spouses of government retirees.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) broke the legislative logjam created by her proposal for an immediate probe of sex discrimination in government when she agreed to let the issue be taken up on its merits next year. Senate Republicans objected to linking her pay equity study to other federal employe issues. But in the end, they did promise to give it early consideration and hearings next year.
Had Oakar held fast -- as some of her supporters' demanded -- the entire federal employe legislative package would have certainly gone down the tubes. Instead, both Democrats and Republicans can say -- truthfully -- that they did something nice for feds.
Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office already has begun work on a system that will be used in 1985 to determine if the heavy concentration of women in the government's lowest-paid jobs is the result of discrimination, and if so, if there is a way to measure the worth of those mostly clerical positions against male-dominated blue-collar occupations.
This is what Congress did: The new merit pay system for supervisors and managers can begin as soon as it is signed into law. Last week, I said agencies wouldn't implement it until next year. But congressional sources say agencies can start it anytime.
Raises for the 100,000 employes (in Grades 13 through 15) will be linked to annual performance based on a five-tier rating system. An "outstanding" rating guarantees the employe the full amount of the regular comparability pay raise, a 3 percent step increase and a cash bonus. An "exceeds fully successful" rating gets the full raise, a 1 1/2 percent step increase and a possible bonus. A "fully successful" means the pay raise, a 1 percent step increase and possible bonus.
The Federal Managers Association has been working on the merit pay reform package for several years. Also approved was legislation giving first-time eligibility for a survivor annuity benefit to ex-spouses of federal retirees. Any ex-spouse entitled to a survivor annuity could also sign up for the federal health insurance program -- but would have to pay full premiums.
The bill, pushed through the Senate by Maryland Republican Charles McC. Mathias, also says the government will make additional survivor benefits available "at no cost to the retiree and no risk to the current spouse" for persons divorced after Sept. 15, 1978, if they are at least 50 years old, were married for at least 10 years while the retiree worked for the government, have no other retirement income (except Social Security) and have not remarried before age 55. Senior Executive Service members will be able to get bigger bonuses next year of up to 20 percent of their salaries. If combined bonus and salary exceed the lid on career government compensation (that figure will be $86,200 next year), executives can collect the unreceived portion of a bonus the following year.