Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., above, sponsored The Federal Retirement Fairness Act with Dan Kilmer, D-Wash.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., above, sponsored The Federal Retirement Fairness Act with Dan Kilmer, D-Wash. Andrew Harnik/AP

Bipartisan Bill Would Let Some Feds Boost Their Pensions, for a Price

Measure would also help some workers retire earlier.

Some federal employees could soon have an option to increase their pensions or retire earlier under a new, bipartisan bill that would provide a boost to civil servants who worked at some point in a temporary status.

The Federal Retirement Fairness Act (H.R. 5389) would enable employees who worked for a federal agency but in a capacity that did not allow them to participate in the retirement benefits program to retroactively pay contributions and receive the corresponding creditable service. Reps. Dan Kilmer, D-Wash., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., said many employees begin their careers in temporary status and the measure would enable those workers to become retirement eligible at an earlier date.

Employees choosing to participate in the “buy back” offer would have to pay both 1.3 percent of their base salaries plus interest and contributions the government would have been responsible for during the period they were on temporary or intermittent status. Despite the upfront costs, federal employee advocates said the measure would still likely benefit employees due to the potential for earlier retirement and because length of service is one of the key multipliers that factor into a retiree’s annuity.

“We understand this may be expensive for employees to utilize, however, it would provide them retirement options they do not currently have,” said Renee Johnson, president of the Federal Managers Association. Johnson added that FMA “enthusiastically” supports the bill and would work with lawmakers “to ensure this good-government legislation gets signed into law."

Federal workers were previously able to buy back years in which they were not contributing to their pension, but Congress cut off the practice for any work conducted after 1988.

“Folks who work hard for our country deserve a government that has their back,” Kilmer said. “This bill lets people retire securely and on time. Workers shouldn’t have to put their physical health at risk because some government red tape says they should work longer than their peers.”

Jones said the measure would “right an injustice.”

“To all federal workers who have selflessly served our military and government,” Jones said, “it is only right that they receive the accurate benefits for the years that they worked.”

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association also supports the bill, according to NARFE’s deputy legislative director John Hatton.

“It’s a common sense piece of legislation,” Hatton said. He noted that because feds would be asked to pay both their and the government’s Federal Employees Retirement System contributions, “It’s not like they’re getting it as a gift.”

Temporary and non-permanent intermittent employees are not currently allowed to participate in FERS. Intermittent personnel generally work on a “sporadic and unpredictable” basis, according to the Office of Personnel Management, “allowing agencies to utilize them in emergencies or when a work schedule is difficult to define.” Kilmer and Jones noted that many employees working as civilians on military bases often begin their careers on a temporary basis and do not realize the negative impact it has on their pension until they begin retirement planning and discover “a bad surprise.”