Welles: Summer winds of change

Social Security reform offers opportunity to change government pensions

The temperature on Capitol Hill is heating up with legislative proposals that could impact federal information technology employees and their retirement plans.

Most federal IT employees are between 46 and 55 years old, with 20 years of federal government experience, according to a CIO Council workforce survey. A

study by Input, a market research firm, states that the number of federal IT workers who are 50 or older will increase to 45 percent by fiscal 2008.

If you are counting on receiving Social Security benefits in addition to a government pension, you should consider the potential impact of two Social Security provisions called the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

A push to repeal or reform the provisions is gaining momentum as lawmakers debate Social Security. The House Ways and Means Committee's Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing this month on the provisions. Social Security legislation could change how government pensions offset and reduce Social Security benefits.

Social Security reform offers the best opportunity to change the government pension provisions that many view as unfair, said Dan Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "If change is going to happen, it needs to happen now to repeal or reform the unfair and arbitrary reduction of retirement benefits," he said.

Those provisions affect federal workers and retirees in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). About one-third of federal workers are covered by that system.

The GPO reduces a spousal Social Security benefit by two-thirds of the amount of a government pension. Under WEP, employees eligible for both Social Security and a pension under the CSRS will have a substantially lower Social Security benefit, as much as 50 percent.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, in written testimony to the subcommittee, said the GPO provision has a particularly cruel impact on women retirees, many of whom are eligible for smaller federal pensions than their male counterparts because of interruptions in their careers while raising their families or because they worked in lower-paid positions.

Legislation that would repeal both the GPO and WEP has gathered 260 House co-sponsors. Similar Senate legislation has 18 co-sponsors.

Other legislation that lawmakers might act on this summer is the Civil Service Modernization Act of 2005, which would broadly apply the pay-for-performance changes at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, said successful implementation of such reforms requires communication and good managers. n

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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