One in every five federal employesincluding about 70,000 U.S. workers here--would be shifted to the Social Security system if Congress decides to extend universal coverage to civil servants with less than five years of government service.
That proposal has not been made officially yet. And if it is made, it would still have to go through the legislative process.
But the idea of bringing new and short-service federal workers into the program that covers most other American workers is one of the few points of agreement reached so far by the 15-members of a bipartisan presidential advisory commission. For some time now it has been looking, and looking, and looking for ways to save the financially troubled Social Security system.
Federal and postal unions fear any kind of mandatory coverage of federal workers--even if it is limited to people not yet hired. They fear that once Social Security arrives it will eventually water down or gut the civil service retirement system.
Government workers are now outside of Social Security. They pay 7 percent of their gross salary for retirement benefits--keyed to salary and service--that are generally much higher than those offered by Social Security.
If any group of federal workers is brought under Social Security, there would be a host of unanswered questions. Among them: What would happen to their future retirement benefits, and how would benefits already promised long-term employes be funded if there is no new crop of contributors?
Unlike the federal retirement program, most private pension plans are tailored to supplement Social Security benefits, which normally begin at age 62 or 65. In some instances, private pensions are actually cut back when Social Security kicks in.
If the government had to operate a two-track system (civil service annuities that are taxed and Social Security benefits that are not), would employes be allowed (or required) to participate in both, contributing a total of 13.7 percent of salary (6.7 percent for Social Security) to two funds? Or would their civil service retirement contributions (and subsequent benefits) be cut back?
In the rush to put federal workers into the Social Security system, it appears nobody has figured out what it would mean for them. There would be short-term benefits to Social Security (bringing hundreds of thousands of new contributors into the fold), but what about the long-term cost to the system, which offers much better disability and survivor benefits to short-term employes than the civil service system?
Those are interesting questions, which a lot of federal workers are asking. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have any of the answers. Speaking for a lot of concerned workers (who happen to be taxpayers, too) let's hope that Congress asks some pointed questions before it comes up with the "solution" to the Social Security mess.