Letters to the Editor

Earning Trust?

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 (Washington, D.C.).

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?

Name withheld

Gaithersburg, Md.

"Stealth Staffing'

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."

Name withheld

Alexandria, Va.

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