Other than the fact that they work for the same mythical person — Uncle Sam — it’s probably safe to assume that workers at the Drug Enforcement Administration are quite different from their colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency in mission, style and outlook on life.
By the same token, organizations and unions that represent active and retired federal and postal workers often squabble over issues, turf and members. But when the going gets tough they unite and cooperate in times of trouble, like now.
Whether you are CIA or National Endowment for the Humanities, just starting out with the IRS in New York City or a newly retired letter carrier in Fresno, California, you are all in the same, some would say sinking, boat.
The White House has introduced a legislative plan that would drastically alter the Federal Employees Retirement System. The Reagan administration set up FERS and congressional Democrats supported it as an alternative to the costly Civil Service Retirement System. FERS gives retirees a much smaller civil service annuity and Social Security. Workers significantly help finance their retirement by contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan, which is the government version of a 401k plan with a very generous employer match of up to 5 percent.
All groups and unions, from rank-and-file to those representing rank-and-file workers, managers, executives and retirees, are going all out to block the proposed retirement hits. Here’s what Tom Burger, executive director of the Professional Managers Association, a fed-postal-retiree coalition, told members:
“PMA along with all the associations we deal with are preparing for major battles this year as the administration, including [the Office of Management and Budget] and [the Office of Personnel Management], prepare to propose major changes to federal employees’ benefits. I will mention a few of the ones that were in a recent request from the new OPM Director Jeff Pon to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“The four major changes requested to the retirement program was the elimination of the FERS annuity supplement which is given to retirees that are not yet eligible for Social Security benefits. It would also eliminate this supplement for survivor annuitants.
“The next major change is to the formula used to calculate your annuity. Currently, it uses your high three-year average of salary. The new proposed formula will use the employees’ highest five years of salary, which in many cases will reduce the annuity a retiree receives.
“This change will definitely reduce your take home pay as the proposal will increase your retirement contributions by 1 percent a year until the contribution rate equals 7.25 percent of basic pay. Currently FERS employees, depending on when they were hired either pay 0.8 percent, 3.1 percent or 4.4 percent.
“Finally, the retirees would feel the changes as well, with reduction of one half of 1 percent for any [cost of living adjustment] for CSRS retirees and the elimination of COLAs for FERS current and future retirees.
“These changes, according to Director Pon, would save more than $143 billion over the course of the next 10 years. Of course, that savings is on the backs of federal employees and retirees, again! Federal employees and retirees have already contributed $246 billion toward the budget with no annual increases, increased retirement contributions and other changes to federal pay and benefits.
“It’s interesting to note that all of these cuts were announced during Public Service Recognition Week. What a wonderful way to recognize public employees, but hit them with another ‘pay freeze’ for the next fiscal year.
“There is going to be a concerted effort to make major changes to the way the IRS and the government as a whole operates. As I have said before, you folks, our members, have the right to express your opinion one way or another by letting your representatives know how you feel. On your own time, with your own computer or phone, send your congressperson a quick note on your position. You also have another opportunity when it’s time to vote. Remember, it’s your right.”
More than 2,500 used New York City subway cars have been dumped into the Atlantic Ocean to create reefs for crustaceans and fish. The cars have been dropped from New York to Georgia, though some locations were not disclosed, and the cars have been studied for ecological projects.