Pay and Benefits Watch: Tilting at windfalls

Federal managers and employees enrolled in the Civil Service Retirement System need to be familiar with two important Social Security rules: The Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset.

First, a little background: Federal employees enrolled in CSRS do not pay Social Security taxes, and therefore do not qualify for Social Security benefits. But often, someone will work for the government for say, 30 years, retire, and then get a job in the private sector for say, 10 years. Those 10 years in the private sector qualify the former fed for Social Security benefits. Because of the way Social Security payments are calculated, former feds in this situation used to qualify for Social Security checks that were comparable to the benefits received by people who had been contributing to the Social Security fund their entire working lives.

In 1983, Congress passed the Windfall Elimination Provision to reduce Social Security benefits for CSRS retirees who also worked in jobs that qualified them for Social Security benefits. A modified formula is used to calculate CSRS retirees' Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration has published on its Web site a document explaining how the Windfall Elimination Provision works in detail at

The Government Pension Offset, which Congress passed in 1977, affects CSRS retirees' Social Security spousal benefits. Spousal benefits are intended for people who are financially dependent on their husbands or wives. But the way Social Security law was previously written, people who received CSRS pensions also qualified for full spousal benefits.

The offset reduces the amount of Social Security spousal benefits CSRS retirees receive by two-thirds of the amount of their government pension. For example, if a CSRS retiree receives a monthly pension of $600, their Social Security spousal benefits are reduced by $400 a month. If the retiree would otherwise be eligible for a $500 Social Security spousal benefit, the retiree would instead receive $100 a month.

The Social Security Administration has also published a document explaining the Government Pension Offset in more detail at

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) has been trying for years to get Congress to repeal or reduce the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. The association contends that the two measures are particularly harmful to lower-income retirees.

The association has found sympathetic lawmakers.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has introduced a bill (H.R. 860) that would get rid of the Windfall Elimination Provision for retirees whose pensions and Social Security benefits total less than $2,000 a month. The bill would phase in the provision for higher-income retirees.

Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Texas, has introduced a bill (H.R. 742) that would completely eliminate the Windfall Elimination Provision.

The association has not found a Senate sponsor for a bill affecting the Windfall Elimination Provision. But Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., introduced a bill in the last congressional session to relieve lower income spouses and survivors from the Government Pension Offset. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., sponsored a similar bill in the House.

Both lawmakers have pledged to reintroduce those bills this session, said Bob Normandie, a legislative researcher for NARFE.

But one House staffer said the chances that Congress would pass bills eliminating or modifying either the Windfall Elimination Provision or the Government Pension Offset are "slim to none." No budget offsets have been proposed to make up for the extra money Uncle Sam would dish out if the measures were changed, the staffer said.

Federal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Retirement System are not affected by the provisions because they pay Social Security taxes.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.