Congressional neglect of feds must end

When Congress returns to work this month, it should make up for its continued

neglect of federal employees, marked in 1999 by failing to pass several

federal-specific bills.

Congress' first order of business should be to fix the problem of federal

workers enrolled in the wrong retirement system — a mix-up that's been on

Congress' agenda for nearly 10 years. The House and Senate have passed bills

addressing the issue, but the bills are hung up over differences about how

to handle makeup contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for those

incorrectly placed in the Civil Service Retirement System when they should

have been placed in Federal Employees Retirement System. The real problem

is that an estimated 18,000 people are wondering what retirement system

they should be in.

Congress also has neglected long-term care insurance for federal employees

and retirees. Some sponsors of this idea recognize that even after passing

legislation, it could be a year and a half or longer until a federal worker

could enroll in such a program.

Passing legislation should be a no-brainer. The idea is for the Office of

Personnel Management to pick an insurance company to offer long-term care

insurance to feds at group rates. Federal employees would pay for the insurance.

The cost to the government would be only the salaries of OPM staffers who

set the program up.

Congress also must work on new life insurance options, which Rep. John

Mica (R-Fla.) has promoted for several years. Mica wants to create cash-accumulating

benefits and voluntary accidental death and dismemberment insurance options.

Although Mica is no longer the chairman of the House Civil Service Subcommittee,

he has a lot of influence, and he is expected to renew the effort this year.

Another neglected area involves a House-approved plan to allow newly

hired employees to forego the current waiting period for investing in the

TSP. The Clinton administration would like to see several minor changes

to the plan, including one that would allow government matching contributions

to start right away.

Congress' track record would not be tolerated in the private sector, where

the emphasis is on solving problems and making money. And who pays the

price for Congress' neglectfulness? We feds.

Zall is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to FCW.

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