Sen. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill.

Sen. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill. Jason Andrew/The New York Times via AP, Pool

Former Temporary Workers Could Make Catch-Up Pension Contributions Under New Bill

Currently, Federal Employees Retirement System employees who began their careers as temporary workers must work longer than anticipated to receive full retirement benefits.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to allow most federal employees who were initially hired as temporary workers to make catch-up contributions to defined benefit pensions so they can retire on time.

Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., on Wednesday introduced the Federal Retirement Fairness Act (H.R. 4268), which would allow employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Retirement System who initially entered government as a temporary worker the ability to make catch-up retirement contributions to cover for the years when they were temps and unable to contribute to their retirement accounts.

Former temporary workers once had access to a similar provision to make “buy back” contributions to account for their time as temps under the Civil Service Retirement System, but the practice was phased out in 1989, after the implementation of FERS. As a result, federal workers who began as temporary employees must choose between accepting a lower defined benefit pension annuity or working additional years to receive their full retirement allowance.

“Many federal employees begin their careers in temporary positions before transitioning to permanent status—so we need to have their backs,” Kilmer said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that all federal workers . . . have the opportunity to retire on time, regardless of how they started their careers.”

“Whether first hired under temporary status or not, civil service should be recognized, and these workers should have the option to pay toward retirement credit for the entirety of their employment,” Cole said. “I am proud to join in re-introducing the Federal Retirement Fairness Act that allows this buy-in benefit to give these civil employees earned time credit toward retirement.”

The bill already has the support of an array of federal employee groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the Federal Managers Association, and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

“When a temporary employee converts to a permanent employee, the temporary service time is not considered when calculating the FERS retirement benefit,” NARFE National President Ken Thomas said. “This bill would allow the once temporary, now permanent employee to make a deposit of employee contributions to make their temporary service creditable towards retirement.”

“Seasonal and temporary employees who answer the call of duty deserve the same level of deference as the permanent employees they work with,” said Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “It is unconscionable to ignore temporary or seasonal labor upon becoming permanent employees given many of these employees risk their lives and health for these jobs, as thousands of wildland firefighters do each year . . . If they put the time in, they deserve to have it counted toward retirement.”