Letter to the Editor: Federal benefits are not free

I wish to make a few comments to Paul G. Anderson's letter in the Oct. 17 paper. I agree with most everything Paul wrote but some facts are wrong. I am a retired federal employee (NASA) and Obama did not give federal employees or retirees a cost of living raise just as the Social Security people did not get a raise. I am not sure that Congress voted themselves a raise for those two years, but I suspect you may be correct.

Federal employees and Congress do have the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, but it is not free; I currently pay $434 per month for medical coverage for my wife and I, and there is no dental or optical coverage unless we purchase it. Congress does have their own pension plan but it is not full pay for life, a lot of money but not full pay. Federal employees have two types of retirement plans, Civil Service Retirement System, which I belonged to. I contributed 13 percent of my pay check each month to keep the fund solvent (and it is solvent today even though a lot of people say it is not) and I did not pay into Social Security during my 32 years with NASA.

Although I had my 40 quarters that qualified me for a Social Security pension, a benefit of about $600 per month, that benefit was reduced by about 44 percent because I was a federal employee and Congress in their infinite wisdom determined I could not receive two full retirement checks. So they took it away from me - hurt the retirees a lot.

The other retirement system, Federal Employees Retirement System, was adopted by Congress in the 1980s. The federal employees in that system paid into it and Social Security, both at a lower rate, and they also receive lower benefits. When I started my aircraft career, all of the aircraft companies provided free medical, including dental and optical, and the policies paid just about everything and the pay was quite a bit higher. When I accepted employment with NASA, I took a pay cut of about 50 cents an hour and started paying for my medical. I felt the other benefits and the assurance that if I did a good job for them I would have a job for as long as I wanted and a good retirement check, was worth it.

Don't ever think a federal employee has a position for life; we could be terminated any time they wanted. I did what the government asked but they did not keep their end of the bargain; they cut my retirement benefits, raised my medical out of this world, took away most of my Social Security and with all that, federal employees are not permitted to bargain, as in unionize, pay, benefits and working conditions. That part was OK since I have no use for unions. I believe they serve a purpose, but just look at the price of things today - automobiles for instance. The pay the auto workers receive, benefits of all kinds, free medical with dental and optical, and they are raising all kinds of heck because the industry wants them to contribute $20 a month toward their medical and they do receive most if not all their pay when laid off for a long period of time.

As for cutting the size of the federal work force and cutting their pay, when I retired my position was contracted to one of the on site contractors and I was offered the position at a pay increase of 58 percent more than NASA was paying me. Remember folks, when the government lays off people or they lose people due to pay and benefit cuts, the work still has to be done and if the cost of doing that job goes up 50 percent or more with each employee lost, somebody, you and I, have to pay the higher cost because contractors do not work for less than the dedicated federal employee and they definitely do not do a better job. I know, because for 22 of my 32 years working for NASA, I oversaw the contractors in the areas I worked and it wasn't pretty.

I can assure you the country is far better off with the federal employee doing the government's work than a contractor. I recently talked with a contractor company about part time employment, 20-30 hours per week with some travel involved, and the pay was in the high $50,000, depending on the hours I put in and how much travel I was willing to do.

The news tonight (Oct. 18) said that Social Security people would be getting a 3.5 percent increase Jan. 1. Obama finally did something right.

Glenn E. Angle

Golden Valley