Trading Spouses, Federal Style

I frequently spend evenings alone in my study doing one of two things:

For amusement, I read the poetry of Charles Baudelaire (in French, which is the only way to get the full meaning).

For civic duty, I am either engaged in fundraising to aid Third World countries or advising (on a nonpartisan basis) national leaders about problems they face.

That’s most of the time…

But a knuckle-dragging friend recently convinced me to check out his favorite TV show. It is called Trading Spouses. The idea is simple enough: Drop a wonderful, organized, efficient, decent woman or man into a family of dysfunctional slobs and nasty kids. At the same time you take a resident of that Animal House and put him or her into the goodie-two-shoes clan. What mirth!

After one episode I was back to translating Les Fleurs du Mal.

But the concept of Trading Spouses made me think of pension-envy that seems to be widespread in the federal service. Some feds who are under the older CSRS retirement program envy the 5 percent match the government will make to the TSP accounts of workers under the FERS retirement plan. It’s the equivalent of a 5 percent, tax-deferred pay raise. Many FERS employees don’t understand why Uncle Sam doesn’t reward them with higher pensions for unused sick leave. There are other differences between the two systems, but the matching contribution-sick leave reward are the most often cited.

Instead of Trading Spouses, why not a civil service version: call it Trading Retirement Plans. A recent column about the pros and cons of CSRS vs. FERS prompted lots of e-mail. Some advise their colleagues to live with the differences. Others demanded equity. One CSRS employee wondered if unhappy FERS employees would like cheese-with-their-whine.

Here is some of the follow up:

  • …I can’t believe the CSRS guy who thinks FERS employees are whiners because they want to get some credit for their sick leave. How would he like to trade his higher CSRS pension for the 5 percent match to the TSP? Ann, Navy, Europe
  • …I believe the matching 5 percent contribution is a trade off for a much lower benefit that’s subject to “diet” COLAs. Cathy at Census
  • …Most of the problem with FERS employees regarding sick leave is they don’t choose to put enough into the TSP. They take their sick leave as soon as they earn it, so they can take only one day at a time and not have to bring in a doctors note to be able to claim it. Thelma, Treasury
  • As an 18 year employee under FERS I believe the fed benefits package is second to none. However the matching TSP contributions for FERS employees is flawed… I like that I can save enough sick leave for a serious health issue… So no whining on my part. I just don’t want to hear it from CSRS feds when I’m off sick and they choose to come in with a cold. They are improving their retirement and I’m improving my quality of life, all within the rules. Just Plain Dave
  • FERS exists due to man-made, not God-made, law. Man Made law can and does change. Few, if any laws made by man have not ever changed. When enough reason, rational and or financial (pressure) exists, the sick leave issue will be addressed. Until then FERS people will burn their leave and some CSRS people will husband theirs. It is an issue whose time has not yet come. A Revenueer
  • To the long-time CSRS employee: If FERS is so great, why doesn’t he change? In order to match CSRS retirement FERS employees need to contribute at least 5 percent out of their pockets in addition to Social Security to get the 5 percent government match. Kiss My Grits in Memphis
  • Final Thoughts for the Day

    I wanted to say “Thank you very much” to the CSRS employee for his whine and cheese comment. Heureux avec la vie.

    PS – I just love Google, would never have understood the Hawaiian otherwise :)

    Nearly Useless Factoid

    According to the Washington Post, the S.S. Minnow (the ill-fated boat on Gilligan’s Island) was named after then-FCC chairman Newton Minow, “who had denounced American television a ‘vast wasteland.'”

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