The Foreign Service Journal, June 2023

AFSA NEWS 46 JUNE 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Your Pension Should Be Your Pension, Period STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 earning and annuity do not exceed the higher of: (a) the FS annuitant’s salary at retirement (unadjusted for inflation), or (b) the fulltime salary of the position in which the FS annuitant is reemployed. If you go above those caps, you must pay back to the department the amount by which the caps were exceeded. For most REAs, the work hours cap kicks in well before the salary cap. Looking at the legislative history of the act, the idea apparently was to ensure that the annuity REAs receive, when combined with the salary they are entitled to in any calendar year, may not exceed their salary at retire- ment. But why should that matter? Double Dipping? The narrative has been that For- eign Service officers would be guilty of “double dip- ping”—that is, allegedly get- ting the same benefit twice— if they were to receive both their full pension and their REA salary without limita- tion. But how can it be called double dipping if your pen- sion has been earned and the department now wants to reemploy you? Again, the military has no such problem. A friend recently told me that a friend of his just retired from the military and returned to work for the Department of Defense shortly thereafter. He receives both his full pen- sion and new salary without You would think the title of this column would always hold true. No matter what job you may have after you retire, you should always receive your full government pension because you earned it, full stop. But if you are a retiree participating in the reem- ployed annuitant (REA) program, run by the State Department, that is not the case. That is because REAs are subject to caps on hours they may work and the salary they may receive if the department decides to reemploy them. One of AFSA’s priorities with the current Congress is to change the REA program so that our retirees who choose to work for the department are not bound by these caps. Our military colleagues have no such lim- its on their pensions, and we firmly believe that Foreign Service pensions should not be limited either. Background. The caps on hours and salary date back to a 1986 amendment to the Foreign Service Act of 1980. In Section 824, the act sets the rules that govern hiring reemployed annuitants. Translated into depart- ment regulation, an FS annuitant reemployed on a temporary basis can work only 1,040 hours per year (equal to six months) and will continue to receive their full annuity and full REA salary so long as the annual limitation. (The only time that happens in the depart- ment is in the relatively rare case of being hired as a personal services contractor, or PSC, after retirement.) By the way, it is your responsibility as the REA to keep track of the number of hours you work and make certain you do not go over the caps. Creating a Diplomatic Reserve Corps. Many of you have heard of this reform effort, led by Ambassadors Marc Grossman and Marcie Ries. The September 2022 “Blueprints” report proposes the creation of a 1,000-per- son Diplomatic Reserve Corps. This corps, designed to function when a surge capability is needed, would be drawn from both active- duty and retired department members and appropriate members of the public. AFSA strongly supports the creation of this reserve. Included in the report is leg- islative language that would ensure that the pensions of our retirees who participate as reserve corps members would not be touched . Changing the Narrative. AFSA hopes to change the unfair, decades-long practice of treating our pensions as fair game to limit and has found some support on the Hill for this reform. Your State Department pension should be off-limits, regard- less of whether you now work in the private sec- tor or are reemployed by the department. And if it’s considered wrongful “double dipping” at State, then why isn’t it considered wrong in other agencies as well? AFSA is not arguing that REAs should receive all the benefits of a full-time, active-duty employee. We understand and agree that the department should save money with REAs by not allowing the accrual of annual and sick leave and by not making matching Thrift Savings Plan payments, for example. To take advantage of the extensive experience and skill that our retirees bring to the table, the department should support this effort to make REA service as equi- table and frictionless as pos- sible. AFSA believes the best way to do that is to remove the hour and salary caps. Please let us know what you think at member@afsa. org. n The department should support this effort to make REA service as equitable and frictionless as possible.