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Copyright 2000 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

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July 19, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 689 words

HEADLINE: Under House Bill, Higher Retirement Contributions Would Become a Thing of the Past

BYLINE: Stephen Barr


Federal and postal employees may get a little sweetener in their paychecks next year.

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a rollback of higher contribution rates that government workers have paid toward their retirement as part of a 1997 balanced-budget law.

Over the course of a year, the rollback would put between $ 200 and $ 700 into the pockets of federal and postal employees, depending on their grade level. That sum, though relatively small, would be in addition to a projected federal and military pay raise of 3.7 percent next year.

The rollback effort began last week in the House subcommittee that handles the Treasury Department, the Postal Service and general government issues. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) offered a rollback amendment and--with crucial support from Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and John E. Sununu (R-N.H.)--got the measure attached to the panel's $ 29.1 billion spending bill.

Hoyer and Wolf contended that the higher contribution levels should be rolled back because deficit-reduction pressures have eased and the goal of a balanced budget was met faster than anticipated.

But the Hoyer amendment drew some opposition. The critics said any rollback should be handled by the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees federal employee issues.

Yesterday, in an apparent effort at compromise, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), the spending bill's manager, offered an amendment that said members of Congress would continue to pay the higher retirement contribution rate, even though federal employees would not.

Kolbe's amendment was approved on a voice vote, though Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) complained that he was "not prepared to say my first priority is federal employees."

The spending bill falls about $ 1.4 billion short of meeting Democratic priorities and would stop work on the Food and Drug Administration's consolidation project in Montgomery County, halt the planned construction of a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms headquarters building in the District and stop renovation work at the National Archives building. The bill also would leave the Internal Revenue Service short of cash and would force it to abolish more than 2,000 jobs.

As part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, federal and postal employees were required to pay more toward their retirement from 1999 through 2001. Employee contributions increased by 0.25 percent of salary in January 1999 and by a further 0.15 percent this year. An additional 0.1 percent increase is scheduled for January.

Hoyer's amendment would roll back the contribution rates to pre-1999 levels (7 percent of salary for most Civil Service Retirement System employees and 8 percent for Federal Employees Retirement System workers).

The Hoyer proposal mirrors legislation introduced earlier by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.).

The Treasury-Postal spending bill also would extend a previously approved provision allowing contraceptive coverage in health plans participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. It would continue a ban on the use of FEHBP funds to pay for an abortion.

High-Tech Pay?

Federal agencies find it increasingly difficult to compete with technology companies, in part because civil service salaries for people with computer skills lag behind the private sector.

Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) hopes to address the problem for agencies with offices in North Carolina's Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), Louisville, Nashville and Las Vegas.

Price attached a provision to the Treasury-Postal spending bill that would authorize the Federal Salary Council to study whether these areas should be designated as eligible for "locality pay" increases under a 1990 law aimed at closing the gap between federal and private-sector salaries.

If approved for increased locality pay, employees in the five areas could get a boost in their pay in January 2002.

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LOAD-DATE: July 19, 2000

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