Coming Back

By Tammy Flanagan

September 30, 2011

Just when you thought everyone was leaving federal service, I've been hearing from a few former government employees who want to come back.

I recently received a call from my friend Mary Ann's husband, Jim. He's thinking about returning to government. He was in the military for seven years during the 1970s, and later served 13 years as an FBI agent under the Civil Service Retirement System. But he receives no benefit from his civilian service because he took a refund of his retirement contributions when he left government in 1989.

Jim's military service will be used to calculate his Social Security retirement benefits. But he didn't have enough service to qualify for a military retirement and he didn't pay a service credit deposit while working as a civilian at the FBI, so he would have to return to federal service in order to credit his military service toward a federal retirement benefit.

If Jim does get rehired by a federal agency, he'd like to work for a minimum of three to five years before applying for retirement. He won't qualify for law enforcement retirement benefits since he is past the mandatory retirement age and didn't complete 20 years of law enforcement service. But he will qualify for either a CSRS Offset or a Federal Employees Retirement System immediate retirement benefit.

Here's how it might work: Let's say Jim comes back for three years at a salary of $100,000. He will qualify for a CSRS Offset retirement benefit computed at 42.25 percent of $100,000, or $42,250 per year. He would have to pay a deposit to get credit for his previous military service (with the interest that has accrued since 1985). That will add up to about $18,000, but the seven years of service will represent $14,000 a year in retirement benefits.

If Jim chooses not to pay back his refunded CSRS contributions, he'll have to take an actuarial reduction to his retirement benefit based on how much he owes (plus interest) and his age at retirement. This could be as much as a $10,000 reduction. But the 13 years of previous service represent $26,000 in future retirement benefits. And he plans to contribute the maximum to his Thrift Savings Plan account to offset the $10,000 reduction.

Jim also will be eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance, and he'll receive credit for unused sick leave that he had accumulated during his previous service. He also might choose to be covered under FERS so he can receive agency matching and automatic TSP contributions in exchange for a smaller basic retirement benefit and no reduction in his Social Security.

Reasons for Returning

There are some compelling reasons to think about coming back to federal service. Here are a few to factors to consider:

I just remembered: I have eight years of federal service in the 1980s. Maybe I should check USAJobs to see what's available for a former retirement specialist with 23 years of training experience. On the other hand, do I really want to work five days a week for eight hours day? Let's see if there are any jobs that only require three days of work for six hours a day - but with full-time pay. Now that would make returning worthwhile.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Mondays at 10 a.m. EDT on, or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area.

By Tammy Flanagan

September 30, 2011