Letters to the Editor
I read the Bureaucratus column on the government's administration of
retirement accounts [FCW, May 22] and the subsequent column describing the
reaction that the initial commentary caused [FCW, June 12]. I do believe
[the columnist, Milt Zall] took it too personally.
Certainly, there are grounds for the civil service to have grave reservations
concerning the handling of their funds by the government. There are some
obvious indicators that the individual's best interest is not necessarily
what the government is interested in. A few examples:
* Mileage reimbursements. The Internal Revenue Service has a consultant
determine what the mileage rate will be. When gasoline was $1.25 per gallon,
we received 32.5 cents per mile. When gasoline fell to about $1 per gallon,
the rate dropped to 30 cents per mile. Now that gasoline is around $1.65
per gallon, the reimbursement should be about 37 cents per mile. Surprise the rate is 32.5 cents per mile. This, the IRS informed me, is due to
their consultant claiming service costs have decreased, thus offsetting
the rise in gasoline costs.
* Social Security. Those funds are in the general treasury to decrease
the need for increased income taxes. They were and continue to be needed
for monuments to pork. As a government worker, when you reach retirement,
your Social Security benefit will be reduced due to your government pension.
This does not occur for private- sector retirees. If we are on the great
adventure of reinventing the government on the basis of the private sector,
why should our benefits be treated differently?
* Civil service retirement. Your contribution sits there for 20, 30
or 40 years and earns no interest. The government's matching contribution
also earns no interest. If you leave the service, you get your contribution
with no interest; the government keeps its contribution. Too bad, you lose.
* The wage comparability joke of 1990. Locality adjustments were made
but at reduced rates in cities with large concentrations of civil servants
With that kind of history, why would you expect the government employees
to trust their employer? We can't strike [because] no labor laws protect
the civil servant. I have no objection to the Thrift Savings Plan being
allotted as an annuity, a monthly check or what-not, but the plan's reimbursement
should reflect each individual employee's choice of where to place his
or her own funds.
I don't believe that the individual who [invested] in government securities
at 3 percent to 6 percent should receive the same as the person who invested
in stocks or bonds. Unfortunately, I believe the government is not best-suited
to administer such a program; the administration and Congress would eventually
come out with a one-shoe-fits-all policy. That, after all, requires less
thought than distributions based on contributions and investing decisions.
I also imagine they would probably have an IRS-type consultant who would
come up with a reimbursement that reflects the politicians' desires, not
reality for the individual.
Basically, the Federal Employees Retirement System and TSP were created
to get away from the Civil Service Retirement System. That is to make retirement
the employees' responsibility, not the government's. Perhaps it would be
useful to keep it that way long enough to see if individuals can responsibly
manage their funds.
It has only been 16 years since FERS and TSP were implemented. A valid
demonstration of the success or failure won't be seen for 10 to 15 years.
Why declare defeat so soon?
Bureaucratus' appraisal of uncounted/unaccountable government contractors
is dead on ["Accounting for contractors," FCW, May 15, 2000].
I have noted a particularly galling specimen. In many instances, government
workers retire with "buyouts," then return to what is essentially their
former position but are hired for it as a "temporary" employee.
Agencies cloak that practice under such subterfuges as cooperative
administrative support units, a growing practice. Using this method, the
agency hires a "contract employee" through a "temporary" staffing company.
Of course, augmenting staff this way is not confined to retirees. My
term for it is "stealth staffing." No agency, to my knowledge, publishes
an accounting of their "stealth staffs."