Federal employees receive a comprehensive package of benefits and retirement. Depending on when and how you join the government, you could be eligible for one of two civilian retirement programs or for the military's pension program. In either case, the government offers a mixture of paid leave, insurance funding, and, for employees who stay long enough, traditional pensions.
Federal Employees Retirement System
In effect for all federal employees hired on or after January 1, 1987, the federal employees retirement system has three parts. Under this system, federal employees pay into Social Security and are eligible to receive benefits from it. They also get access to a federal pension that is calculated based on their length of service and their highest income while serving. The federal employees retirement system also includes access to the Thrift Savings Plan, which is like a 401(k) account. The government automatically pays one percent of pay into the plan for every covered employee and will also match worker contributions.
Civil Service Retirement System
Offered to employees who joined the federal government at or before the end of 1986, the civil service retirement system works differently than the newer federal employees retirement system. Workers who are covered by the civil service retirement system don't collect Social Security or pay into it. Instead, the money that would have gone to Social Security gets used as a pension contribution, and, in retirement, the pension is more generous than the pension under the federal employees retirement system. Employees under this older system can pay more into their annuity to receive more. They can also contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan, but do not receive any government contributions.
Civilian government employees also receive a comprehensive package of benefits. These can include access to employer-based health, dental and vision insurance. The federal government also offers life and long-term care insurance as well as a flexible spending account. Federal employees also receive paid leave. Every employee gets 13 days of sick leave per year that accumulates. Employees with one to three years of service get 13 days; those with three to 15 years get 20 days; and employees with 15 years of service or more get 26 days. Up to 30 days can be carried forward. Federal employees also receive 10 paid holidays per year.
The military pension system is roughly similar to the federal system. Under it, a service member gets annual payments that are calculated based on her length of service and her military pay. As of 2013, service members usually become eligible for a military pension after 20 years of service. This means that someone could enlist at 18, retire from the military at 38, and earn a pension while working somewhere else. Service members also have access to the Thrift Savings Plan for additional tax-deferred savings.
The military also offers benefits. Its members receive paid leave, life insurance and health care coverage. The government also includes special benefits for surviving family members in the event that a service member pays the ultimate price. Service members also get the opportunity to shop at discounted base commissaries and exchanges. They may also receive allowances to help pay for the cost of food or off-base housing. To help them take advantage of their 30 days of paid vacation every year, service members and their immediate families get the opportunity to fly for free in open spaces on military flights.
- OPM.gov: FERS Information
- OPM.gov: CSRS Information
- USA.gov: Benefits, Leave, and Pay for Federal Employees
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Careers at BLS -- Benefits at a Glance
- Military Compensation: Retirement
- Military Compensation: Benefits
- Defense Finance and and Accounting Service: Basic Pay -- Effective January 1, 2013
- Today's Military: World Travel
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images