Not all federal employees are able to count the full length of their government service toward retirement eligibility, because they started their jobs as temporary rather than permanent employees.

But bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., May 2 would allow those employees to make catch up contributions to their federal retirement, so they don’t have to work extra years to become retirement eligible.

“Many federal employees begin their careers in temporary positions before transitioning to permanent status — so we need to have their backs,” said Rep. Kilmer in a news release. “This bill will ensure that all federal workers, from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and beyond, have the opportunity to retire at the same time, regardless of how they started their careers.”

The bill, titled the Federal Retirement Fairness Act, is similar to a pre-1989 Office of Personnel Management policy that allows employees to “buy back” the years they worked as temporary employees by enabling them to make up retirement contributions they didn’t make in those years.

“I am proud to join in introducing the Federal Retirement Fairness Act that allows federal workers, first hired under temporary status, to receive retirement credit for the entirety of their government service,” said Rep. Cole. “The existing policy provides no benefit to federal employees or the federal government, but the buy-back option gives workers additional credit toward retirement which is an option they currently do not have available.”

As of September 2018, the federal government employed 145,401 temporary employees — about seven percent of the workforce — who ranged from levels of the executive service to temporary appointments in the Senior Executive Service, according to OPM employment data.

“Seasonal and temporary federal employees who answer the call of duty deserve the same level of respect as permanent employees who often work alongside each other,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “It is unconscionable to ignore their temporary or seasonal labor upon becoming permanent employees. It is like saying those months or years did not matter. If they put the time in, they deserve the option to have it counted toward retirement.”

The Department of the Army had the largest number of non-permanent employees in September 2018 at 19,211, mostly located in the Corps of Engineers and National Guard.

But the Departments of Interior and Health and Human Services both have a higher percentage of their workforce in non-permanent positions at over 20 percent, with the Department of Interior hitting 23 percent in the summer, when traffic to the National Parks increases significantly.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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