Survivor entitlement

The CIA tried to shortchange one of its employees, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit wouldn't let it. The case in point involved Joseph Roman.

His wife, Laurie, began work at the CIA on Aug. 10, 1986, at which time she became a participant in the Federal Employees Retirement System. Laurie Roman worked at the agency full time until Aug. 17, 1992, when she began a period of leave without pay to care for her newborn daughter. In July 1993, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. On Aug. 15, 1993, she returned to work on a part-time basis.

For the next two years, she worked 32 hours per 80-hour pay period, until her illness forced her to take disability retirement Aug. 30, 1995. Laurie Roman died shortly thereafter. Because Joseph Roman is the surviving spouse of a federal disability annuitant, he is entitled to a survivor annuity, the amount of which is calculated according to a statutory formula.

By the time of her retirement, Laurie Roman had eight years and 11 months of total service. Ordinarily, a disability annuitant is also given credit for the number of years remaining from the time of disability to age 62. This is called imputed service. In this case, that brought Laurie Roman's total years of service to 39 years and one month.

Because her service included part-time work, however, the value of her annuity had to be reduced by applying a proration factor. But how do you handle the imputed years of service? The CIA treated Laurie Roman's imputed service as if she would have worked part time during those years. Based on the CIA's methodology, the value of Joseph Roman's survivor annuity was 50 percent of what it would have been if his wife's actual service had all been full time.

He argued that the agency should not have treated the 30 years and two months of imputed service as if his wife had continued to work part time for that entire period. The CIA rejected his arguments, so he appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which affirmed the CIA decision. Joseph Roman then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The court concluded that the statute supported Joseph Roman's view that "total service" to be used in the annuity calculation does not include the period of imputed service for which Laurie Roman was credited. Accordingly, it reversed the board's order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

It seems crazy to assume that the imputed years should be credited as if the employee would have worked part time. The idea behind giving an employee imputed years is to raise the employee's benefit to a reasonable level. By taking the CIA's approach, the opposite would have occurred. Three cheers for Joseph Roman!

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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