When it comes time to collect Social Security, many federal workers and employees of state and local governments, as well as some nonprofits, are in for a major shock.

Those anticipating a Social Security benefit they earned could find it reduced a maximum of $265.50 a month if they turn 62 this year and apply for benefits. That's because of the "windfall law."

Those expecting a spousal or survivor Social Security benefit (based on a husband or wife's private-sector employment) very likely won't receive any Social Security benefit if they also qualify for a civil service annuity or some other pension from work not covered by Social Security. That's because of the "offset law." Many people who are targeted by the windfall or offset laws don't know it--and won't until it hits them.

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees estimates that 300,000 retired federal workers have been hit by the windfall law and 250,000 by the offset law. Those numbers will grow as more federal employees still under the old Civil Service Retirement System retire and become eligible for Social Security benefits.

Workers under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System pay into Social Security and are not affected.

Many federal and other public employees qualify for Social Security benefits by working a relatively short time (10 years) in the private sector-- although that doesn't qualify them for the maximum benefit. Maximum benefits go to people who work full careers in jobs where they pay full Social Security taxes.

To escape the windfall law, people drawing a pension from work not covered by Social Security must have paid into Social Security for 30 years. Those who put in 21 to 29 years under Social Security will be subject to minimal reductions. Also exempt from the windfall law are those who were 62 or who were eligible to retire from government (even if they didn't) before 1986. Individuals are exempt from the offset law if they were eligible to retire before December 1982 or if they switched from CSRS to FERS by Dec. 31, 1987.

The offset law is more likely than the windfall law to be modified this year, because it hits many lower-income employees (mostly women) hardest.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) to modify the offset formula had 196 co-sponsors last year and picked up an additional six yesterday, the opening day of Congress. His bill would exempt the first $1,200 a month in combined public pension-Social Security benefits from the offset.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has 88 co-sponsors for his bill to modify the windfall formula. Under his plan, the windfall formula would not apply to the first $2,000 in combined monthly benefits. From $2,000 to $3,000 a month, there would be some reduction. The full windfall formula would apply to combined benefits of more than $3,000 a month.

Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Tex.) has 41 co-sponsors for his bill to eliminate the windfall formula.

Getting Congress to change the offset or windfall rules won't be easy for groups representing workers and retirees. To succeed, they must educate (as in TERRIFY) unwary federal workers and the even larger block of state and local government workers who have either offset or windfall in their future. Those people live and work and vote in every congressional district. And they far outnumber nervous federal workers, which is a very important point in this election year.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Donald MacIntyre has retired after 11 years as the agency's labor relations officer. Before joining FEMA, he was a national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He was scheduled to get the FEMA Director's Award today, according to one of his fans, son Douglas MacIntyre.

Francis E. Raue has retired from the Office of Thrift Supervision after 42 years with Uncle Sam.

Jack Barrett, special agent in charge of the criminal division of the FBI's Washington field office, has retired after 31 years' federal service, including 29 with the bureau. He's a past winner of the Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award and is heading for a consulting career.

The Small Business Administration's Richard J. Sadowski has retired after 38 years of federal service. He had one of the longest titles in government: assistant administrator for the Office of Natural Resources Sales Assistance in Government Contracting.

Tindaro A. Smiroldo has retired as director of the Defense Automated Printing Service's Pentagon Center. He had 34 years of federal service.

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

Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2000