Federal Times Blogs

Letter to the editor: No end to unfair pay, retirement for federal firefighters

Bookmark and Share
(Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images) Members of the U.S. Forest Service clear brush at the Colby Fire on a hillside above Highway 39 on January 17, 2014 in Azusa, California.

Hello everyone. What follows below is a letter to the editor discussing federal firefighter pay and retirement. Under the current system, federal firefighters work 53 hours a week to earn the same as other federal workers in the grade scale system. In addition, firefighters work an additional 38 hours of overtime a pay period, which does not count toward retirement and with only a fraction more pay.

The letter below spells out the reader’s concerns in full, and feel free to add your thoughts, opinions or comments below.

Dear Federal Times,

I am a retired federal firefighter, and have been for just over 10 years.  During my time as a federal firefighter I was one of the very few to try and understand our pay system – and it was one complicated mess.

Until about 2002 our pay was actually in three parts.  The first was pay we received for our first 80 hours in a pay period (we worked 144 hours in a pay period), and our pay was exactly the same GS rate that every other GS employee earned.  Then, thanks to a law passed in 1954, we received 25 percent premium pay for working “nights, weekends and holidays” and, for some reason known only to the then, Civil Service Commission, we earned this “25 percent” for the next 64 hours.  NOT, mind you, in addition to the hourly rate we earned dur

ing the first 80, but just “25 percent”.   Thus, if our hourly rate was $10.00 an hour for the first 80, we earned just $2.50 an hour for the next 64 hours of our 144 hour pay

period (and remember that the hours we worked over 80 were MANDATORY hours.

Then, in 1976, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act and it included “overtime” for Federal firefighters, but it also mandated that our “regular hours” were actually 106 in a two week pay period.  The Office of Personnel Management stepped in and determined that we had already earned “time” for all 144 hours and added our pay together ($10.00 an hour x 80 = $800.00 and $2.50 x 64 = $160.  $800 + 160 = $960.00 /144 =$6.67 an hour) and our average hourly rate dropped from $10.00 an hour to $6.67 an hour…and we were only entitled to 1/2 of that ($3.33) as our “overtime rate” for our last 38 hours in the 144 hour pay period.

Therefore a Firefighter earning $10.00 an hour would receive $800.00 + $160.00 (25% Premium Pay) + $126.67 overtime for the last 38 hours for “overtime”.  Please note that this is how our pay was calculated and it was so complicated that many of our Payroll offices never understood it.

THEN Congress decided, in 1998, to “fix” this mess.  The law they concocted eliminated the 25 percent Premium Pay and took the same annual salary earned by every GS employee, that is divided by 2087 to determine the employee’s “hourly rate” and decided to divide that SAME annual salary by 2756 for Federal firefighters (because, after all, there was a law that decided that our work week is 53 hours and NOT 40 as it is for all other GS employees, and this is how Federal firefighters are paid to this very day.

Therefore, if a GS annual salary is, for example, $20,000.  It is divided by 2087 to arrive at $9.58 an hour for the 40 hour GS employee, but it is divided by 2756 (53 hours x 52 weeks = 2756) and the Federal Firefighter earns $7.26 an hour.

Therefore, a Federal firefighter works 2756 hours to earn exactly the same annual salary that a regular GS employee earns working just 2087 hours.  In other words, the Federal Firefighter is at work an extra 669 hours to earn what the GS employee earns NOT working those extra hours.

Further, the overtime earned by the Federal Firefighter is still earned for the last 38 hours of the 144 hours he or she is at work.  That overtime rate is (base on the $7.26 hourly rate) is $10.89, or $1.31 more that the regular hourly rate for the regular GS employee.

Somehow someone somewhere thought this was “fair” and it’s been how Federal Firefighters have been paid for well over 12 years.  AND, to make matters worse, the 64 hours we are REQUIRED to work every 2 weeks in addition to the 80 hours every Federal employee also works, in not counted toward our retirement.  NOT ONE CENT of the MANDATORY overtime we work is factored into our retirements.

Further, several studies over the last 30 years, have determined that Federal Firefighters have an “average life span” to age 57.  I personally have know at least 7 federal firefighters who died before they were 50.

Now, there is a reason I am writing this.  Retired Federal firefighters worked at rates normally between GS-5 to GS-12, and retirements we earned are nowhere near at a “living wage”.  Not only is our income reduced by nearly 1/2 without our overtime factored into our retirements, our “high 3″ usually forces another reduction in our retirement income.

We have widows of retired Federal Firefighters struggling to survive because their spousal annuity is even further reduced.  One I know lost her home two years ago and another is struggling to keep hers as I write this.

Now I know that over the years Congress provided a pay increase to Federal employees based upon the cost of living throughout the United States but, again, this didn’t apply to most retired Federal Firefighters, further crippling their ability to survive on their retirement annuities.

I’d really like to know how our Congressional Representatives could allow this to happen to Federal Firefighters and, more to the point, how could our UNIONS allow this to happen to us and the then take “credit” for a pay change that didn’t fix anything but to make our being screwed “less complicated”, and then simply allowed us to retire with annuities that force most of us to find additional jobs that some of us work in until our mid 70′s.  I thought our civil service retirement was supposed guarantee us a “living wage” in retirement.  No such thing yet exists for us.

I’m sure this letter will generate excuses by the parties that spearheaded the changes made in 1998 that were supposed to “fix” our pay issues.  I have heard them for decades.  NOW I want to hear how unions (ANY union for that matter) proposes to come up with a retirement system for us that counts our overtime hours into our annuities, and provides retirement calculations that aren’t based upon an artificially lowered regular hourly rate or an overtime base upon that lowered hourly rate, and don’t bother writing a “rebuttal” unless you can also provide what you are doing to fix this for us.  We’ve all heard the nonsense before.

All this change did was to guarantee Federal Firefighters to be the butt of insults and worse from other (municipal, state and county) firefighters who see us as insane to have worked in a career where we were called upon to save lives of those earning far more than we were while they could run from the fire.  We had to stand and fight the fire and now we deserve to be paid an annuity that can actually allow us to retire.

Some us know we got screwed.  Others will soon.


Mark D. Hutchings

Tags: , , , , ,

Who are the 13 winners of the annual Service to America medals? Read about them here

Bookmark and Share

(Thank you to the Partnership for Public Service for providing the bios and the information.)

The recipients of the thirteenth annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals are:

William Bauman and Ann Spungen, Science and Environment Medal, Director and Associate Director, National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury, James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Department of Veterans Affairs, New York City

Individuals living with spinal cord injuries suffer from associated medical problems involving blood pressure, breathing, bladder control, heart disease, temperature regulation and non-healing ulcers—health issues that were long overlooked by the medical profession. Bauman and Spungen developed innovative medical advances and novel drug therapies to treat these ailments, helping to improve the health and quality of life for paralyzed veterans.

Omar Pérez Aybar, Reginald France and the Miami HEAT Teams, Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal, Assistant Special Agents in Charge, Miami Regional Office, Office of Inspector General Department of Health and Human Services, Miami

Every year, health care providers file billions of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims. In partnership with the Department of Justice, Aybar and France coordinated criminal investigations for 12 special Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Teams (HEAT) in South Florida that uncovered hundreds of fraudulent Medicare schemes by durable medical equipment suppliers, home health agencies, physicians and rehabilitation facilities. The investigations resulted in nearly 700 convictions and the recovery of almost one billion dollars.

Sean Young and Benjamin Tran, National Security and International Affairs Medal, Electronics Engineers, Air Force Research Laboratory, Department of the Air Force, Dayton, OH

Improvised explosive devices have caused two-thirds of the casualties to U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan. Engineers Young and Tran led the development, testing and deployment of a cutting-edge system of sensors placed on unmanned aerial vehicles that have helped Army and Special Forces units identify deadly improvised explosive devices and destroy these bombs before they could cause harm.

Alan Lindenmoyer, Management Excellence Medal, Program Manager, Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Houston

When the space shuttle program ended, NASA needed a way to transport supplies and crews to the International Space Station. Lindenmoyer solved this problem by launching a new era of private-sector orbital transportation. By creatively joining forces with the private U.S. space launch industry, Lindenmoyer made it possible for our country to continue its lead in space exploration while dramatically reducing the costs to taxpayers of building and deploying rockets and spacecraft.

Sara Meyers, Call to Service Medal, Director, Sandy Program Management Office, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C.

The federal government needed to better understand the effectiveness of critical housing and disaster recovery programs. Meyers set up systems to analyze vast amounts of data to help policymakers track and evaluate the performance of critical programs dealing with homelessness, public housing and rental subsidies. She also set up processes to track the spending and effectiveness of $13.6 billion in economic stimulus money for housing and $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy disaster recovery funding.

 Michael Byrne, Citizen Services Medal, Former Geographic Information Officer, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was charged with expanding broadband service nationwide. To achieve that goal, Byrne created a set of interactive, searchable online maps that put detailed data about broadband availability in the hands of citizens and policymakers. He also created online maps and geospatial visualizations that helped consumers and businesses make informed decisions by bringing to light previously inaccessible data about our country’s communications systems, including the proposed locations for new cellphone towers and new low power FM radio stations, and the availability of spectrum to be auctioned by the government.

Edwin Kneedler, Career Achievement Medal, Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Edwin Kneedler has argued 125 cases before the Supreme Court, more than any other practicing attorney, on issues ranging from health care to free speech. As the top career deputy in the Solicitor General’s Office, Kneedler has set a high standard for integrity and has used his immense experience, institutional knowledge and credibility to help craft the government’s legal position on hundreds of cases before the nation’s high court.

Rana Hajjeh and the Hib Initiative Team, Federal Employee of the Year, Director, Division of Bacterial Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta

Until recently, nearly 400,000 children in developing nations were dying annually of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia. Employing a combination of persistence, advocacy and science, Hajjeh worked with public health partners to convince 60 countries to use the Hib vaccine to curb the spread of these diseases, ultimately preventing millions of childhood deaths and disabilities such as mental retardation and deafness. The Hib Initiative, funded by the GAVI Alliance, is a consortium of four organizations: CDC, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Health Organization.

Everything you wanted to know about phased retirement in one place

Bookmark and Share

Phased retirement has been a long time coming, and now that the Office of Personnel Management has announced that it will begin accepting applications from agencies Nov. 6, people have a lot of questions. Some of you have been frustrated by a lack of information from you agencies.

We put together a few Q and As based off your questions, and have added links to relevant stories so you can have everything in one place. For any additional questions about phased retirement, feel free to add them in the comments.

Phased retirement Q and A No. 1

Phased retirement Q and A No. 2 – the Q and A strikes back.

The original release and finalization of phased retirement by OPM

And finally, agencies themselves might not be able to make the Nov. 6 application start date.

5 Federal Times stories you might have missed last week , but should probably get to

Bookmark and Share

We are all very busy people constantly strapped for time in an increasingly complex world. And all too often stuff falls through the cracks. But lucky for you I made a list of some of our stories from last week that you might want to read, just in case you didn’t get a chance to.

1. Years of budget cuts have pushed federal hiring to its lowest levels in almost 10 years, with nearly every agency seeing drastic drops in new employees. Which careers and agencies have seen the  biggest drops? Check out the story to see.


2. After eight years of trying the government has finally reached its small business contracting goal – although results were a bit more mixed at the agency level.


3. A new bill would roll back the pension contribution increases passed by Congress over the last few years.


4.Service-disabled veterans who get jobs in the federal government might get some sick leave off the bat to help deal with service injuries, instead of having to wait to build up some sick leave.


5. Congress finally got together and passed a large piece of legislation that would boost funding at the VA for medical care for veterans. But at the same time they reduced some of the protections for members of the Senior Executive Service.


Some TSP funds doing way, way better than others

Bookmark and Share

Hello everyone! I just wanted to share with you the TSP returns for June, with their year to date and their 12 month views as well. As you can see, things are in the black again, but some funds are growing much faster than others.

G Fund

F Fund

C Fund

S Fund

I Fund













12 Month






L Income

L 2020

L 2030

L 2040

L 2050













12 Month






Tags: ,

GSA turns 65 the only way possible – by talking about how much things have changed

Bookmark and Share

The General Services Administration is celebrating its 65th birthday by highlighting how much government work has changed over the decades.

Ori Hoffer, social media strategist at GSA, said in a blog post that employees used to use manual typewriters and process contract bids by hand, but now use a wide array of technology to help shorten and simplify the process.

The agency also has evolved from testing natural gas as a vehicle fuel to using electric and hybrid cars in its rental fleet.

“While the people and the technology have changed, and the mission statement may be a bit different, the goal is still the same – streamline the administrative work of the federal government,” Hoffer said.

70 years later: Remembering D-Day

Bookmark and Share

Across the Internet today people will be posting their thoughts and remembrances of a day 70 years ago when the United States and her allies invaded France and helped lead to the end of World War II. Among the other articles and galleries you read, you should take a look a the picture gallery  built by our sister publications at Military Times.


7 famous people and their less famous federal jobs: You might be surprised

Bookmark and Share

Federal employees have taken a lot of heat over the last few years. They are called overpaid and underworked. The fight over their pay and benefits has been well documented. Politicians have called for closing entire agencies, while others push bills to end the civil service .

We did this list a few years ago, but I thought it was long due for an upgrade. So here are some now very famous people who at one point would have been considered federal employees.

7. Wanda Sykes

This one is from reader Drew Fletcher, who pointed out that before she became a successful professional comedian and actress she was a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency for about five years. According to a 2010 article in the Washingtonian Magazine, she had a high level clearance as well.

Photo of Wanda Sykes, April 17, 2010, used under creative commons. Photo by Greg Hernandez (http://www.flickr.com/photos/greginhollywood/)

Wanda Sykes has made the lists of top comedians for years and has been voted one of the funniest comedians by polls of her peers. She has appeared in movies, worked as a voice actor and has been on television – both on her own shows and in others. She most recently portrayed Senator Rosalyn Dupeche in the Amazon original TV series Alpha House.


6. Julia Child

Julia Child was a cooking inspiration to millions of people through her television shows and her books – and perhaps one of the most famous chefs past or present. Child is first on the list because her federal career may be the most well-known.

During World War II she was turned down by the Women’s Army Corps and the U.S. Navy WAVES because she was too tall so instead she worked for the Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA.  She rose through the ranks and traveled the world, from Sri Lanka to China and I am sure did lots of other cool stuff that we will never know about.

It was after the war, when she and her husband were living in France, did she attend culinary school and walk down the path that would make her a household name.

Note: I did not add Julia Child to the list because her federal career as a spy is very well known.  Or at least not a big secret anymore.

5. Ina Garten

You might know her as the Barefoot Contessa,  a world famous Chef and TV personality. But before she decided to wow us with her self-taught culinary ability, Ina Garten was a nuclear energy budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget under both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Now she makes amazing meals and travels the world educating us on culinary issues.

4. Abraham Lincoln

Yes, yes, I know he was a member of Congress and one of our most famous presidents. But did you also know he was the Postmaster in New Salem, Ill, for almost three years? He became postmaster on May 7, 1833 and lost the position when the post office was relocated May 30, 1836. How did Lincoln get the gig? Well the Park Service says that its uncertain, but might have had something to do with the conduct of the former postmaster.

The women of New Salem were irritated when Samuel Hill, the former postmaster, spent more time serving the men whisky instead of taking care of postal duties. As postmaster, Lincoln was always willing to please customers and would go out of his way to do so.

Abraham Lincoln: Come for the salvation of the country and pick up your mail on the way out.

3. Walt Whitman

All right. Walt Whitman was a famous poet, and many of us read at least some of his work in high school. In fact, there are at least a few schools named after him. But once again, it seems like Whitman had to make ends meet by working for the federal government.

According to the National Archives:

Whitman lived in Washington, DC, for a decade from 1863-1873… To support himself and to help fund his work aiding soldiers, Whitman secured low-level government work–functioning mainly as a clerk, spending much of his time as a scribe or copyist. He worked in the Army Paymaster’s office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Attorney General’s office.

2. Walt Disney

Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and others. Walt Disney created a gigantic media empire that spans the gambit of amusement parks, new stations and even ESPN. He won dozens of Oscars (animated shorts category) and his empire was so powerful, it literally spun off other famous people. Just the Mickey Mouse Club alone helped give rise to Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

But before all that, Walt Disney was a substitute mail carrier in Chicago, Ill.

I would use a picture here, but for copyright purposes I will let you imagine a Disney picture of some sort.

1. Dr. Seuss

Ok. So we are down to No. 1, and who can possibly top everyone else on the list? Well, Theodor Seuss Geisel at least comes close. He brought us the Cat in the Hat and The Lorax, and dozens more. His work is so well known that you can call someone a Grinch and they will know exactly what you mean. His works have been translated into more than 15 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies.

They are still making movies based off of his work. (Not all of them great).

But Dr. Seuss was employed by the Treasury Department in 1942 to make illustrations for the war effort and to help sell war bonds. His federal career was brief, however: He joined the Army in 1943.

But if anyone else knows of more secret federal careers of more famous people, just add them into the comments.

Tags: , , , , ,

A hat tip to a site you should know about: The Government Attic

Bookmark and Share

I wanted to spend a moment today to tip my hat to the Government Attic. It’s essentially a resource for information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that is put up for anyone to look through. It’s been a fantastic source of stories for me and for others I know who follow the site.

You might remember this story about Burning Man. It was made possible with the documents stored on the Government Attic site.

The intended audience is the public, journalists, researchers and others.  It is entirely self-funded and does not accept any money from anywhere or any advertising support. Which means that the only motive here is to get the information out. Of course, the layout is a bit rough – like Craigslist circa 2004 – but its functional.

It’s consistently updated with fresh content, whether its agency inspector general reports or historic documents from agencies. The layout and functionality of the site also continues to improve.

I suggest you give it a look if you have not before, or follow it on Facebook to get continual updates.

Attention small businesses, the Coast Guard is looking for some officer swords

Bookmark and Share

The United States Coast Guard is asking small businesses for bids from small businesses for about 580 swords and accompanying scabbards, according to a solicitation posted on Fed Biz Opps on May 23. The solicitation is only for small businesses who are able to supply officer swords with specialized grips, pommels and blades with the appropriate insignia. Small businesses have until June 3, at 5 p.m. to submit their proposals.

Here are some sketches of the scabbards in question. The rest are available here.

The various views of the scabbard being asked for by the Coast Guard.

The various views of the scabbard being asked for by the Coast Guard.