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:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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