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H.R. 2478: Federal Retirement Fairness Act

Should a once-seasonal government employee, such as a firefighter for a national park in the summer, have that temporary service count towards their retirement?

Context

The federal government employs many temporary or seasonal workers, including firefighters for national parks during the fire season, Census counters and tabulators during the decennial survey, and more. The government used to permit such employees — who could not make retirement contributions — to make “catch-up payments” towards their retirement if they later became permanent employees.

However, that practice ended in the late 1980s after the government had instituted a new plan called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). This means such temporary-turned-permanent government employees have to work more years than they’d like to — or are able to — or else retire early without the full retirement benefits they arguably should have accrued.

What the bill does

The Federal Retirement Fairness Act is a bipartisan bill that would return to the pre-1989 standard, in which government employee’s time worked during their temporary status counts towards their retirement.

It was introduced in the House on May 2 as bill number H.R. 2478, by lead sponsor Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA6) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the change would only be fair to existing federal government employees, who are essentially getting punished by not having time they worked count towards their retirement.

“Many federal employees begin their careers in temporary positions before transitioning to permanent status — so we need to have their backs,” Rep. Kilmer said in a press release. “This bill will ensure that all federal workers, from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and beyond, have the opportunity to retire at the same time, regardless of how they started their careers.”

“[The bill] allows federal workers, first hired under temporary status, to receive retirement credit for the entirety of their government service,” Rep. Cole said in the same press release. “The existing policy provides no benefit to federal employees or the federal government, but the buy-back option gives workers additional credit toward retirement which is an option they currently do not have available.”

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 40 bipartisan House cosponsors: 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans. It now awaits a potential vote in the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

While that may sound like promising odds for passage, a previous March 2018 version attracted a smaller but similarly-bipartisan 17 House cosponsors — 12 Democrats and five Republicans — and never received a vote.

Last updated Sep 18, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on May 2, 2019.


Federal Retirement Fairness Act

This bill modifies the federal civilian service that is creditable service under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

Specifically, it expands the nondeduction service that may be creditable under FERS. Nondeduction service is federal service where an employee's pay is not subject to retirement deductions (e.g., service under a temporary appointment).

Currently, nondeduction service performed before January 1, 1989, is creditable under FERS so long as a deposit is made into the retirement fund to cover the period of nondeduction service.

This bill allows nondeduction service performed on or after January 1, 1989, to be creditable under FERS so long as a deposit is made into the retirement fund.