Surfing Web sites for fed workers
- By Milt x_Zall
- Aug 28, 2000
Today's federal employees are faced with a daunting challenge: keeping up
with the latest changes that affect their job, pay, family, health and future.
This is further complicated, and also aided, by the increasing number of
Web sites geared toward the federal worker. The question is: What's out
there and where should you go?
I recently reviewed three Web sites — two new and one established — that I think are the best of the bunch, although they still have a long
way to go. In general, they offer an aggregation of information that's useful
to feds; some of it is original content and much of it is from other sources,
Launched earlier this year, PlanetGov.com bills itself as "The Web Portal
for Government Employees" and features articles written exclusively for
this site. "From a content perspective, what we want PlanetGov.com to be
is a place where government and military professionals come to get information,"
said Steve Baldwin, chief executive officer of PlanetGov.com. The information
is associated with different "channels" such as health, career, news and,
in the near future, travel and technology. It also offers free e-mail and
The feature attraction is a daily Mike Causey, the former
Washington Post columnist. His Federal Forum column for the site is devoted
to federal employee issues. It deals with topics that are of continuing
interest to feds, such as the gap between federal employee pay and private-sector
The front page also features a section called "Today's Top Stories"
that contains time-sensitive news. That's a strong point for this site because
it shows that PlanetGov.com is not just picking up news from various sources
and repackaging it. Instead, the site has people covering stories that feds
want to read, and it also has a features section that spotlights agencies.
A daily advice column, "Ask Juliana," answers readers' questions. On
the day I visited, Juliana offered advice to a federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission counselor who wasn't sure how to deal with questions
from friends at the office because her job required her not to disclose
details of her work. Such advice can be useful to feds in a variety of occupations.
For now, the site is not fully operational. In the future, plans call
for a marketplace section that will provide information to agencies on
buying computer and communications hardware, software and services. A travel
section will enable feds to make airline and train reservations, book hotel
rooms, get per diem rates and learn about a destination city. A "Collaboration
Section" will contain information to help feds manage their offices' work
and systematically gain the inputs and approvals they need.
PlanetGov.com provides many links, including one to the Federal Research
Service site, which has long provided federal employees with information
about federal job openings.
The bottom line: This site is off to a quick start and promises to develop
into an extremely useful one.
The four-month-old fedamerica.com site, which calls itself the place
"Where Feds Go First," contains a wealth of information on topics such as
pay and benefits, retirement and health, and offers free newsletters and
handbooks. "Our game plan is to be the No. 1 information provider for federal
employees for free," said John Whitney, CEO and publisher.
Clicking on the newsletter tab allows you to subscribe to two free e-mail
newsletters: fedreport.com, which covers the latest career information,
and fedtechnology.com, which details the latest technology news.
Behind the "Pay and Benefits" tab, you'll find information on various
federal pay plans, the GS/GM pay tables, 2000 locality pay areas, a tutorial
about the Federal Wage System and information about the Pay Comparability
Act. Accessing this information enables you to, for example, check on how
much a promotion will add to your paycheck and how much your next step increase
On the same page, you can access handbooks covering a wide range of
topics including insurance and disability. For example, if you want to know
whether you can add a newly adopted child to your existing health benefit
coverage, you can check that out in the Federal Employees Health Benefits
There is also a separate section that contains handbooks on other topics,
including alternative dispute resolution, the Federal Employees Health Benefits
program, the Federal Employees Retirement System, the Civil Service Retirement
System, the Fed-eral Employees Group Life Insurance program and a veterans'
guide to federal employment.
These handbooks are available for free elsewhere — for example, the
Federal Employees Health Benefits handbook is an Office of Personal Management
product. However, it's convenient to get a comprehensive collection of fact-filled
handbooks for feds from one site. There isn't a lot of value added by fedamerica.com,
but it offers a library that has everything a fed could want.
The bottom line: This is a very useful site containing a library of
free information that feds want.
"Putting Federal Employees and Retirees First" labels this interesting
site. It primarily offers advice and news on pay, benefits and financial
planning for federal workers. "What separates us is we're not a portal,"
said Kevin Couch, vice president of marketing and operations. "We're not
trying to drive all the feds to our site to buy. We're a traditional publisher
giving them solid information, and we also publish our own books."
The three-year-old Fedweek.com site offers a free weekly newsletter
by the same name that contains news targeted at federal employees. When
I visited this site, its weekly newsletter contained information on the
recent passage of a long-term care insurance bill; an update on the federal
employee health insurance open season; and news on an upcoming federal pay
The site provides GS locality pay tables. So if you are considering
a job offer from an agency in some other part of the country, you can check
the locality pay tables to see what your salary would be in that region.
If you're not sure which locality a particular federal installation
is in, just click on the tab "Definition of 2000 Locality Pay Areas" and
you are provided with the geographical boundaries of each area. Law enforcement
personnel can access a similar table that applies to their unique pay schedule.
The site also gives everything you might ever want to know concerning
pay for the executive schedule, which includes appointees such as assistant
secretaries. There's also information on the basic pay rates for members
of the Senior Executive Service, employees in senior-level scientific or
professional positions, administrative law judges and members of the Board
of Contract Appeals.
There is also information on per diem rates — useful as you head out
on government travel.
A retirement information center offers documents helpful for someone
thinking about retirement or who is already retired. For example, a report
that contains information on the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance
program is presented in a question-and- answer format. You might find this
data elsewhere, but it is convenient to access it at one site.
There's information here that could save you a bundle. The site offers
information on the Federal Employees and Civil Service retirement systems
and the Thrift Savings Plan. For each topic, the site provides an overview
that contains useful information, but it's far from complete. The site offers
to sell you a detailed report on each topic for about $10, which isn't too
steep. But clearly, it is trying to whet your appetite to buy the report.
This site contains a nice collection of hyperlinks and is convenient
for someone who likes a one-stop shopping approach that's relevant to feds.
However, you won't find original content.
The bottom line: This site, though not as comprehensive as fedamerica.com,
has useful information for feds. Its strongest attraction is the weekly
These three sites have a lot to offer and will undoubtedly get better.
If you come across a good site for feds, let me know and I'll pass the information
—Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Colleen O'Hara contributed to this article.