The first law passed in 1995 after Republicans assumed control of the Congress was quite succinct: “Congress must abide by all the laws that they impose on the rest of America.” Ever since then, hundreds of stories have been written that describe how our Federal government reserves special treatment for itself. Some illustrate the benefits that elected officials award themselves, while others focus on special treatment for federal employees. While researching a new category of special treatment, we discovered much more than we bargained for.
A reader brought to our attention the plight of federal temporary workers. She had been employed, as a temporary worker, at both the US Postal Service and the USDA, and claimed that she received none of the benefits to which a permanent employee was entitled. She was told “We hire temps so we don’t have to count them as regular government workers, so the government doesn’t look as big as it is.”
This encouraged us to investigate the issue with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which serves as the HR (Human Resources) division of the Federal government. Extracting information from these people was tougher than a T-Bone at Denny’s. No personnel could actually be interviewed. Questions had to be submitted in writing and were answered two weeks later. Then you had to submit follow-up questions and wait another two weeks.
We wanted to know how many federal employees are classified as temporary workers. In 2010, there were 22,204, a number far larger than the payrolls of most American companies. It should come as no surprise that the 2006 number was about 4,000 employees lower, and that the large recent increase occurred principally during the Obama Administration.
If you work for a private employer that offers a health insurance plan, you must be covered within 60-90 days. Not with these federal workers – they’re not covered at all, because under federal rules, you can work for up to a year as a temporary worker and not receive health insurance. Here is the hitch: the temporary worker can be rehired for a second year, during which health insurance is available to the employee, but only if they pay the entire cost. It’s ironic that an administration that passes laws requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance refuses to provide it for a class of federal employees that is growing by leaps and bounds.
Neither do these temporary employees participate in the federal pension system. Most private pension plans cover employees when they begin their second year of service, but these employees never see any pension benefits, even if they are re-hired year after year in the same position.
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