The Federal Civil Service Retirement System: An Analysis of its Financial Condition and Current Reform Proposals

Herman B. Leonard

NBER Working Paper No. 1258
Issued in 1984

This paper analyzes the financial condition of the Federal Civil Service Retirement System. It begins by examining various official annual reports about the system published by the Office of personnel Management, discussing their differing assumptions and resulting differences in estimates of the unfunded liability.It then discusses the construction of a simulation model in which the current unfunded liabilities can be estimated under an entry age normal definition of pension obligations.The results suggest that, for reasonable estimates of salary increases,inflation,and benefits indexing, the unfunded liabilities of the CSRS are between $500 billionand $600 billion. (Even under the accrued benefits definition of pension obligations, which I argue is more relevant to private sector employment, the unfunded liability exceeds $400 billion). I argue that this constitutes a debt similar in burden per dollar to that represented by the explicitly recognized national debt, and nearly half as large.The last part of the paper considers current proposals to reform the CSRS to reduce the unfunded liabilities. They are found (1) to reduce the pension wealth of current federal workers by nearly one half, (2) to fall rather dramatically on middle aged federal employees, and (3) to leave the unfundedliabilities of the system still in excess of $400 billion.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1258

Published: Leonard, Herman B. "The Federal Civil Service Retirement System: An Analysis of its Financial Condition and Current Reform Proposals." Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, edited by David Wise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (1985), pp. 399-443.

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