Festivities will honor nation's public servants


WASHINGTON -- "Public employees hold an important part of our public trust and perform a vital service to all Americans each day. . . . The importance of their total commitment and outstanding skills cannot be overstated."

So said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, a New York Republican, in kicking off "Public Service Recognition Week." The recognition week runs through Sunday.

Some 1,000 cities in the United States and territories are planning festivities in celebration of Public Service Recognition Week, said Gretchen Hakola of the Public Employees Roundtable.

In Washington, the week will be celebrated with a three-day rally on the National Mall tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. Sixty federal agencies will participate with booths and demonstrations designed to teach the public about each agency's work.

A large McGruff the Crime Dog hot-air balloon will tower over the festivities, courtesy of the Justice Department, and the Defense Department will show off its Desert Storm accoutrements, including helicopters, tanks and the Humvee all-terrain military vehicle.

The Customs Agency will demonstrate how its trained dogs sniff out hidden drugs; Blue Cross-Blue Shield will offer free health screenings, and Baltimore's National Aquarium will have an exhibit of fish and alligators.

The Social Security Administration is to display an informational exhibit, with a musical performance and clowning by SSA employees.

The opening ceremony is scheduled for noon tomorrow.

Booths will remain open until 5 p.m. tomorrow and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

"Public Service Recognition Week provides the American people . . . with the opportunity to thank the men and women in public service, as well as to acknowledge their contributions to our nation," Mr. Gilman said. "Good government is a reflection of the men and women who make it that way, and I am grateful so many qualified men and women have chosen careers in public service."

Senior citizens:

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has sent a letter to the director of the Office of Personnel Management expressing concern about OPM proposals she said could have "devastating effects" on retired government workers.

In a letter to Director Constance Berry Newman, Ms. Mikulski criticized a recent "call letter" sent to Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan carriers which proposed reducing prescription drug coverage for some retirees.

"This discriminates against senior citizens who pay as much for their FEHBP plan as anyone else in the program," she said. "They should not be singled out for cuts."

The second proposal would change FEHBP's billing system to that used by Medicare, leaving retirees responsible for the "limiting charge" -- the cost above the Medicare fee rate non-participating doctors are allowed to bill patients.

While agreeing that "it may make sense to use Medicare payment rules for senior citizen services," Ms. Mikulski said, limiting charges should be paid by FEHBP rather than by beneficiaries.

Ms. Mikulski said both proposals appeared in President Bush's 1993 budget, but have been rejected by budget committees in the House and Senate.

She urged OPM to give a "thoughtful review" of the plan.

An aide to Ms. Mikulski said it is unusual for a federal agency to "come to Congress with a plan, have it rejected, and turn around and do it anyway."

OPM is claiming it has administrative authority to enact the policy, the aide said. It is unclear whether OPM does have that authority, but Ms. Mikulski and other senators, who are planning to draft a second letter to Newman, oppose the changes on fairness grounds, the aide said.

Layoff trauma:

As the Defense Department drawdown continues, members of Congress are responding with legislation designed to ease the trauma of layoffs.

Late last month, a bill was introduced by Reps. John Reed, D-R.I., and Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., that would protect jobless workers from losing their homes for a year after becoming unemployed.

A second bill would make workers in "defense-reliant communities eligible for job training before they are laid off to allow them to plan and train for work in a peacetime economy," Mr. Reed said.

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