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Thank the People Who Make Sure You Get Your Benefits

Public Service Recognition Week is a good time to honor those who created and those who maintain the federal retirement system.

Sadly, it’s still more likely that federal employees will be called names such as “bureaucrat” and “pencil pusher” than be thanked by the public for their accomplishments. Public Service Recognition Week, which has been celebrated in the first full week of May since 1985, is a time set aside to honor those who serve our nation as federal, state, and local government employees. In anticipation of next week’s recognition, I wanted to highlight some of the federal civil servants who have worked tirelessly to improve the retirement and insurance benefits system for federal employees over the history of the civil service.

Federal employees have long valued their retirement benefits, which include a pension, Social Security (depending on what retirement system you’re in) and the 401(k)-style Thrift Savings Plan. But these benefits didn’t just fall from the sky. There were legislators and executive branch leaders who created them. For example:

  • There’s a reason the Office of Personnel Management’s headquarters is called the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building. He laid the foundation for the modern civil service, leading the fight against the political patronage system and creating the federal job classification system. 
  • Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on Aug. 14, 1935, barely a year after promising members of Congress to create a safeguard "against the hazards and vicissitudes of life." 
  • In the mid-1980s, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, led the effort to create the Federal Employees Retirement System, which President Reagan signed into law in 1986.

Although these laws created today's benefits, federal employees are responsible for implementing and interpreting them. They often go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that their fellow employees are well prepared for the transition to retirement. I know there were times when these employees spent hours working overtime when greater numbers of employees were retiring or being offered early retirement opportunities.

If you’ve already retired from federal service, then there were many federal employees who worked to make sure your monthly benefit lands in your bank account—human resources employees, retirement specialists, training officers, contract specialists, payroll workers and more. 

If you have communicated with the Social Security Administration by phone or in person, I hope you’ve thanked the person who patiently listened to your questions and concerns so they could provide you with the retirement, survivors, and disability benefits you need.

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the TSP, employs only a handful of federal workers, but they are responsible for administering the world’s largest employer-sponsored savings plan. As of February, the TSP held nearly $760 billion in assets. The thrift board’s employees continuously strive to improve the service to TSP participants via education and training efforts, a robust website and more. 

There are many ways to recognize, celebrate and honor the work of federal employees. I hope you feel valued and supported by the public that you serve, and by your own colleagues. As the public service announcement on next week’s festivities says, “Public servants are on the front lines guarding our national security, curing diseases, caring for veterans and providing important services to the American people. Since the founding of our country, public employees have worked to ensure that our government is the best in the world.”