Federal Employees News Digest

Bill: Retirement option for part-time, temp feds

Many feds start their government careers in part-time positions, often working for years on a non-permanent basis before deciding to make a full-time job of it. 

Back in the 1980s and prior years, there was a mechanism for part-time feds to lock in some retirement under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). 

Unfortunately, in most such situations, in the decades since under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) there has been no way to tap into fed retirement in a manner that properly credits non full-time feds with their early, intermittent stints in federal employment. 

Now, in Congress, there’s a bill on which ride hopes to fix this unfair and unnecessary hindrance to bettering current feds’ later lives, and luring part-timers to full-time agency employment: the Federal Fairness Retirement Act. Backers of the bill are hopeful—the past year has seen a lot of movement toward greater recognition in the public mind, and among lawmakers, that good employees and their good work have to be fairly compensated, or the best of them will leave. 

The FFRA would allow feds who started in temporary or seasonal government work—such as wildfire firefighters, park rangers active only in tourist season, civilian help in military operations and some special programs—to retroactively “buy back” retirement contributions for their time at these posts. Such current full-time feds would cover a portion of what would have been the needed contribution to their retirement benefits had they been permanent full-timers. 

Participating in the program would be optional. But if an employee chose to do so, they ultimately would receive a retirement package that counts their earlier service—in some cases, greatly enhancing their financial picture at the end of their federal career. 

As one major union that backs the bill, the National Federation of Federal Employees, explains in a release: “Because the employee is paying (plus interest) for this time to count towards their retirement, the burden to the taxpayer is minimal.”  

“Seasonal and temporary federal employees who answer the call of duty deserve the same level of deference as the permanent employees they work with,” NFFE President Randy Erwin says in the release. “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.”

“To deny counting that time on the job is akin to creating a second-class of employee,” Erwin continues. “If they put the time in, they deserve to have it counted toward retirement … It is long overdue that former seasonal or temporary civil servants have the option to count their time serving our nation towards their well-deserved retirement benefits.” 

“All federal employees should have the freedom of choice to retire on time after their years of service if they have made the necessary contributions to do so,” Erwin continued. “The bill will ensure that all federal employees, regardless of their initial hiring status, are granted the same opportunity for the same amount of work.” 

Another plus is that the bill has bipartisan backing, and a real chance at passage. “Frankly, it has been a long time coming, and I thank [Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.)] for their leadership on this issue,” Erwin said. “It is time to level the playing field for temporary and seasonal workers.”

Other major unions and federal employee advocate organizations, such as the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), have backed past versions of the legislation and are behind the current bill.

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2021 Digital Almanac

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