Pensions for civilian federal employees are provided through two programs, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). CSRS was authorized by the Civil Service Retirement Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-215) and FERS was established by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-335). Under both CSRS and FERS, employees and their employing agencies make contributions to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF), from which pension benefits are paid to retirees and their surviving dependents. Retirement and disability benefits under FERS are fully funded by employee and employer contributions and interest earned by the bonds in which the contributions are invested. The cost of the retirement and disability benefits earned by employees covered by CSRS, on the other hand, are not fully funded by agency and employee contributions and interest income. The federal government therefore makes supplemental payments each year into the civil service trust fund on behalf of employees covered by CSRS. Even with these additional payments into the trust fund, however, CSRS pensions are not fully pre-funded.
Prior to 1984, federal employees did not pay Social Security payroll taxes and did not earn Social Security benefits. The Social Security Amendments of 1983 (P.L. 98-21) mandated Social Security coverage for civilian federal employees hired on or after January 1, 1984. This change was made in part because the Social Security system needed additional cash contributions to remain solvent. Enrolling federal workers in both CSRS and Social Security, however, would have resulted in duplication of some benefits and would have required employee contributions equal to more than 13% of workers’ salaries. Consequently, Congress directed the development of the FERS, with Social Security as the cornerstone. The FERS is composed of three elements: (1) Social Security, (2) the FERS basic retirement annuity and the FERS supplement, and (3) the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).1 Most permanent federal employees initially hired on or after January 1, 1984, are enrolled in the FERS, as are employees who voluntarily switched from CSRS to FERS during “open seasons” held in 1987 and 1998.