Bills that would minimize the impact of the "windfall" and "offset" laws on the Social Security benefits of retired federal workers--and other public employees--continue to pick up steam. One law can take a chunk out of a Social Security benefit. The other can eat it up entirely.

Under the so-called windfall law, the Social Security benefit earned by a federal retiree--for private-sector service before, during or after federal employment--can be reduced. The longer an individual has worked in a Social Security-covered job, the less the windfall reduction. This year, the maximum reduction for someone retiring at age 62 would be just over $250 a month.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is sponsoring legislation that would exempt the first $2,000 a month in combined Social Security and civil service benefits from the windfall law. From $2,000 to $3,000 a month, benefits would be subject to partial reduction. Frank's bill now has 75 co-sponsors.

The so-called offset law can eliminate the spousal Social Security benefit of someone with even a small federal civil service annuity. Legislation that would reduce the impact of the offset law also is picking up support.

Bills sponsored by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) would exempt the first $1,200 a month of combined civil service and Social Security benefits from the offset formula. Jefferson's bill now has 181 House co-sponsors. Mikulski's bill has 13 Senate co-sponsors.

Although it is unlikely--given the congressional calendar--that legislation to modify either law will become law this year, progress has been made. Efforts to modify the offset and windfall laws have been going on for years. But the efforts have reached their high-water mark this year and could set the stage for some kind of modification in the next session of Congress.

Offset-Windfall Wizard

Bob Normandie is retiring today from the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. He joined NARFE a dozen years ago after retiring from the Social Security Administration. He has been the point man on NARFE's work to have the windfall and offset laws repealed or modified. This has been a very successful year for him.

Normandie doesn't look old enough to have retired once, much less a second time. But he does qualify. In fact, he told his boss, NARFE's legislative director, Judy Park, that he wanted to be truly retired before his great-grandchildren were born.

Noncitizen Spouses

Glenn J. writes: "I am a civil servant under the Civil Service Retirement System. My wife is not an American citizen but is a permanent resident. I have heard rumors that she would not receive the same survivor benefit that an American spouse would. Is this true? Would there be a 'tax' on the pension that an American spouse would not have to pay?"

Answer: If Glenn makes provision for a survivor annuity, his wife will get the same benefit as a U.S. citizen. Also, the tax status of her survivor benefit is the same as for a U.S. citizen.

Office Argument

Reader James Dolson needs an answer to settle an office debate: "I am under the CSRS retirement plan. There is a difference of opinion among my colleagues and me as to the length of service required in order to attain the 80 percent of the [high three-year average salary] annuity. Please let us know how many years/months of service are needed."

The answer, according to NARFE's Bill Smith: 41 years and 11 months. Employees with that much time under the CSRS system gets an annuity equal to 80 percent of their highest three-year average salary.

Benefits Checklist

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST radio (1120 AM), John Elliott, benefits specialist with the Drug Enforcement Administration, will discuss what federal workers who are five to 20 years from retirement should be doing now to prepare for that time.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com