If federal employees were a foreign country they would rank only behind China and Japan as holders of U.S. Treasury securities, according to federal data.
The Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employee Retirement System hold a combined $837 billion in Treasury securities, and the Thrift Savings Plan holds another $194 billion. In combination they rank only behind the Social Security Trust Fund, China and Japan as holders of public debt.
While federal employees do not directly control the pension system portion of the public debt, federal employee retirement funds constitute about 6 percent of the $18 trillion in debt the Treasury Department is currently financing.
This fact is made sharper by the recent debt limit standoffs in Congress, as one of America's major creditors are its own federal workers.
On March 16 the Treasury Department notified Congress that it was once again at its statutory limits and would have to begin various measures to juggle debt payments until Congress raises the debt limit.
On March 17, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sent a letter to Congress notifying them that one of the "extraordinary measures" the agency can take to stay under the debt limit is to suspend the investment of the G fund – the securities investment fund of the TSP – and the federal pension funds as well.
"By law, the G Fund will be made whole once the debt limit is increased. Federal retirees and employees will be unaffected by this action," Lew wrote.