Social Security, What’s In It For Feds?

Most people working for Uncle Sam will collect Social Security benefits when they retire. But what about a pending proposal to reduce benefits and raise the age...

What does the name Alan K. Simpson do for you. Or to you?

  • If you are young or middle-age (or from Wyoming) you may know that he served 3 terms (18 years) in the U.S. Senate and as governor of Wyoming. While in the Senate he was under the enhanced congressional version of the Civil Service Retirement System that then covered virtually all federal and postal workers. Or,
  • If the candles on your last birthday cake resembled a controlled forest fire, chances are you are well aware that Simpson is cochairman of the president’s deficit commission. It’s officially known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. And that he’s a critic, to put it mildly, of Social Security as we know, and love or hate, it.

In fact he has referred to the Social Security, which pays benefits to one in every six Americans, as a cow with 310 million faucets. Except he didn’t say faucets.

Like the Defense Department BRAC commission before it, the NCFRR was setup to take the political sting out of tough decisions to actually cut a variety of major programs. Like maybe Social Security.

The Commission is due to make its recommendations to Congress Dec. 1. That’s after the November elections. If 14 of the 18 members agree on any cuts, including changes in Social Security’s payment formula and retirement age, the House and Senate leadership have agreed to consider them on an up-or-down vote. That’s how BRAC worked.

Simpson has become a lightning rod for groups wanting to see Social Security reformed and those thinking it must be protected as is. Both are very serious.

Federal and postal workers, and retirees, have a dog in this fight.

At one time federal workers (and many state and local government workers) were outside of Social Security. They paid into the more generous CSRS retirement fund. Any Social Security benefit they got would have been based on private sector work they performed before or after their federal service.

But since the introduction of the Federal Employees Retirement System in the mid-1980s Social Security has become important, very important, to government workers. Instead of getting a defined benefit from one source (the CSRS program) they get a greatly reduced civil service (FERS) annuity, Social Security, and their optional Thrift Savings Plan.

Some people think that the ‘threat’ to Social Security is a straw man thrown up by groups, and politicians, who make careers out of defending it from attacks both real and imagined. They point out that Social Security is the third rail (as in electrified) of American politics and that any legislator who touches it is dead.

Others say this time it’s different. They say that the fiscal condition of Social Security is bad and will only get worse as baby boomers start collecting even as there are fewer people paying into the system. The BRAC-like nature of the commission, they say, means it is entirely possible big changes will be recommended and approved.

Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn show we’ll talk with Nancy J. Altman. She’s chairman of the Board of the Pension Rights Center, and serves on the board of a National Organization to preserve Social Security and Medicare. She’s a tax attorney, and served on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She says this threat is for real, not a Washington drill. Listen if you can (10 am.) or at WFED 1500 AM. If you have questions for her, email them to me at:

New NARFE Leaders

Joseph A. Beaudoin of Winchester, Va., is the new president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees. Beaudoin defeated former Maryland Federation President Richard L. Stombotne of Gaithersburg. Delegates to last week’s convention in Flint, Mich., also elected Paul H. Carew of Pittsboro, N.C., as National Vice President, Elaine Hughes of Ashville, NC, as National Secretary, and Charles W. Saylor of Towson, Md., as National Treasurer.

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