Lawmaker urges end to early federal retirement

Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., wrote a letter to the super committee endorsing the plan. Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., wrote a letter to the super committee endorsing the plan. Scott J. Ferrell/Newscom file photo
A House lawmaker is urging the joint committee on deficit reduction to put an end to early federal retirements to save money.

"There are many thousands of federal employees who are retiring in their 50s and even in their late 40s," Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., said in a letter last week to members of the congressional super committee. "As much as American lifespans have increased, we simply cannot afford to allow people to draw federal pensions at such young ages."

Federal workers, including members of Congress and congressional employees, would not be able to receive their pensions until age 62 under Duncan's proposal. It would apply only to new hires or members; current federal employees would not be affected.

Duncan and others have put forth this idea before. In a July speech on the House floor, the Tennessee Republican called for revising the federal civilian and military retirement system. He singled out federal law enforcement officers in particular. "Almost no federal law enforcement today is physical in nature. Early retirement in most federal law enforcement can no longer be justified," he said. "Working as a waiter or waitress is more physically demanding than most federal government positions for which we now grant early retirement."

Retirement eligibility for federal employees varies based on the type of retirement system, age of the employee, length of service and the minimum retirement age. Under the Federal Employees Retirement System, federal employees are eligible for an immediate, full pension at age 62 or older with at least five years of service; at age 60 with 20 years of service; and at the minimum retirement age-which varies depending on year of birth-with 30 years of service. The criteria are generally the same for those under the Civil Service Retirement System.

Lawmakers are eligible for an immediate, full pension at age 62 or older if they have completed at least five years of service; they are eligible at age 50 or older if they've served 20 years, or at any age after completing 25 years of federal service. Under the Civil Service Retirement System, members of Congress are eligible for an immediate, full pension at age 60 or older, after a decade of service, or age 62 after five years of federal service.

Air traffic controllers and federal law enforcement officers can retire at any age with 25 years of service, or at age 50 with 20 years of service. The mandatory retirement age for air traffic controllers is 56; it's 57 for federal law enforcement officers, including firefighters.

A 2008 Office of Personnel Management analysis of federal retirement found that the median number of years an employee stays with the government after becoming eligible to retire is four years. Nearly 25 percent stay nine or more years, according to the report. Many agencies currently are offering buyouts and early retirement packages to federal employees to save money in an uncertain budget environment.

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