Understanding the Special Retirement Provisions Under FERS for Law Enforcement Officers Air Traffic Controllers and Firefighters -Part I
This is the first of two FEDZONE columns discussing the special retirement provisions that apply to certain groups of employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement Employees (FERS). These employees are law enforcement officers (LEOs), firefighters (FFs), and air traffic controllers (ATCs). This column will present the rules and procedures for determining whether an employee is classified as a LEO, FF, or an ATC, and the eligibility requirements rules that must be met by a LEO, FF, or an ATC in order to retire from federal service under the special retirement provisions.
Determination of Job Classification as an ATC, FF, and a LEO
An ATC is a civilian employee of the Department of Transportation or the Department of Defense working in an air traffic controller facility or flight service station facility and who is actively engaged in: (1) the separation and control of air traffic; or (2) providing pre-flight, in-flight, or airport advisory service to aircraft operators. Also included in this definition is an employee who is the immediate (first level) supervisor of an ATC as defined in the first sentence of this paragraph. The Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Defense are authorized to determine that an employee’s service in a position is service as an ATC.
An FF is an employee occupying a “rigorous” position (see below, for definition) whose primary duties are to perform work directly connected with the control and extinguishment of fires. Also included in this definition is an employee occupying a “rigorous” firefight position who directly moves to a “secondary” position (see below, for definition) which meets the definition of a ‘rigorous” position under the FF classification.
Note the following under the definition of an FF under FERS: (1) an employee whose primary duties are the performance of routine fire prevention inspection duties is excluded from this definition; and (2) in contrast to the CSRS definition of an FF, the FERS definition does not include employees in positions in which duties are primarily to maintain or use firefighting apparatus and equipment.
A LEO is an employee who occupies a “rigorous” position whose primary duties are the investigation, apprehension, or determination of individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws of the uniter States, or the protection of officials of the United States against threats to personal safety.
A “rigorous” position is defined as:
· A position in which the duties are so rigorous that employment opportunities should be limited through the establishment of a maximum entry age and physical qualifications: An FF position would therefore be open to young and physically vigorous individuals whose primary duties are to perform work directly connected with controlling and extinguishing fires. A LEO position would be open to individuals capable of investigating, apprehending or detaining individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws of the or protecting the personal safety of United States officials.
An employee occupying a “rigorous” LEO or FF position also can move directly to a “secondary” position that meets the following conditions:
· A job that: (1) is in the law enforcement or firefighting field; (2) is in an organization having a law enforcement or firefighting mission; and (3) is either supervisory or administrative.
Effect on Temporary (“Nondeduction”) Service
Federal service that is not subject to FERS deductions (such as service under a temporary appointment that was performed before January 1, 1989) may be creditable as firefighter or law enforcement officer service if: (1) the position is approved as described for a firefighter or law enforcement officer as discussed above; and (2) the employee made a deposit equal to 1.3 percent of basic pay for such service, together with the total interest owed.
Effect of FF or LEO Service Under the Foreign Service Pension System
Civilian service that was creditable under the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS) may be creditable as an FF or as a LEO if: (1) the job position is approved as an FF or a LEO as discussed above; and (2) the employee waives credit for the service under the FSPS and makes a deposit equal to what have been deducted from salary if the employee had been covered under FERS, plus interest.
ATC, FF and LEO Eligibility Requirements to Retire Under FERS
Under FERS, an ATC, FF, or a LEO may retire voluntarily or involuntarily (except by removal for cause on charges of misconduct or delinquency) at an early age with no reduction to the “basic” FERS annuity. In addition, an ATC, FF, or a LEO who retires will be entitled to the special retirement supplement (SRS) annuity. The following conditions must be met to retire: (1) meeting age and service requirements; and (2) separation from a position subject to FERS coverage.
Note the following:
1. An ATC’s, FF’s, or LEO’s retirement may be triggered by a mandatory separation based on age. This will be further discussed below.
2. There are special rules associated with the FERS SRS annuity that are associated with a retired ATC, FF or a LEO. These rules will be discussed in the next FEDZONE column discussing the computation of a special provision employee’s FERS annuity and SRS annuity.
Minimum Age and Service
An ATC, FF, or LEO must meet one of the age and service requirement at separation in order to be eligible for retirement under the special provisions of retirement. Table 1 summarizes these age and service requirements
Table 1. Minimum Age and Service Time Requirement for Special Previous Retirement
|Minimum Age||Minimum Service Time to Retire as an ATC, FF, or a LEO|
|50 Any Age||20 years 25 years|
Note the following under the minimum age and service requirements:
· Accrued and unused annual and/or sick leave cannot be used to meet the minimum service requirement
· Military service – even if creditable under FERS – cannot be creditable as part of the minimum service requirement for an ATC, FF, or LEO.
· An employee is not required to separate from a position as an ATC, FF, or a LEO in order to retire under the special provisions. Once an employee meets the minimum service requirements (20 or 25 years and associated minimum age requirement) he or she may exercise the right to retire under the special provision even if the employee is no longer covered by these provisions at the time of retirement.
· Erroneous separation. In the event an employee separates voluntarily with the expectation of qualifying for retirement as an ATC, FF, or a LEO, and OPM finds that the employee does not meet one of the eligibility requirements, such separation may be found to be erroneous.
ATCs, FFs, and LEOs are subject to mandatory separation upon reaching certain ages. This section describes the mandatory separation rules for an ATC, FF, and a LEO.
· ATC. Unless an ATC qualifies for an exemption, an ATC is subject to mandatory separation upon reaching age 56. The mandatory separation is effective on the last day of the month in which the employee becomes age 56. Note that an ATC is subject to mandatory separation, even if he or she has not acquired sufficient years of ATC service to qualify for retirement under the special provisions. However, mandatory separation does not apply to employees who are eligible for retirement under the special provisions but who are not currently occupying an air traffic controller position.
· FF and LEO. In general, all FFs and LEOs are subject to mandatory separation based on age. However, mandatory separation does not apply to employees who are eligible for retirement under the special provisions but who are not currently occupying an FF or LEO position. Note that for retirement purposes an employee is considered to reach a year of age on the day before his or her birthday.
The standard mandatory separation age for a LEO and an FF is age 57. Unless there is a granted an exemption from mandatory separation until age 60, the mandatory separation is effective as follows:
– If the FF or LEO has completed 20 years of service under the special provisions, he or she must be separated on the last day of the month in which he or she reaches the standard mandatory separation age of 57.
– If the FF or LEO attains the standard mandatory separation age and has not yet completed the required 20 years of service under the special provisions rules, he or she must be separated on the last day of the month in which he or she completes the 20 years of service.
Table 2 summarizes the types of positions included under the special provisions job category. Included in the chart are the job classification codes as shown on an employee’s SF 50 (Notice of PersonnelAction)Box 30, minimum retirement age, minimum service time for retirement, and mandatory retirement age.
Table 2. Summary of Special Provisions Job Categories, Minimum Retirement Age and Service Time, And Mandatory Retirement Age.
|Job Classification||SF-50 Code||Minimum Retirement Age||Minimum Service Time (Years)||Mandatory Retirement Age|
|Law Enforcement Officer, Firefighter||M||50 Any age||20 25||57|
|Air Traffic Controller||L||50 Any Age||20 25||56|
Edward A. Zurndorfer is a Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Life Underwriter, Chartered Financial Consultant, Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant, Certified Employees Benefits Specialist and IRS Enrolled Agent in Silver Spring, MD. Tax planning, Federal employee benefits, retirement and insurance consulting services offered through EZ Accounting and Financial Services, and EZ Federal Benefits Seminars, located at 833 Bromley Street – Suite A, Silver Spring, MD 20902-3019 and telephone number 301-681-1652. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of Edward A. Zurndorfer or EZ Accounting and Financial Services. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. While the employees of Serving Those Who Serve are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.