Government pension offset


Q. Individuals covered under CSRS pay CSRS employee deductions, and are excluded from Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance taxes of Social Security. They may contribute up to the Internal Revenue Service elective deferral limit each year to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), but CSRS employees who contribute do not receive any government contribution.
There are so many references in Office of Personnel Management materials, congressional papers and Treasury manuals that prohibited those working under this system from paying into Social Security, how can Congress and Social Security turn around and penalize survivors whose spouses paid into Social Security? Why aren’t they able to apply for those benefits if they are the survivor who paid into Social Security and had to forego their full retirement benefits due to the death of that former spouse and a reduction in force that occurred simultaneously and out-of-state?

A. The Social Security system was designed to provide a modest level of security for those who didn’t work or who had earned little during their working life. In other words, spousal benefits weren’t designed to put extra income into the pockets of working couples who were both entitled to benefits. In a two-worker family where both pay Social Security taxes, if one of them is eligible for an earned Social Security and a spousal benefit, he or she only gets the higher of the two, not both.
At one time, anyone covered by CSRS who was married to someone covered by Social Security was entitled to receive both a full CSRS annuity and a full Social Security spousal benefit. Then, in 1982, Congress decided that an employee who was in a retirement system where he wasn’t paying Social Security taxes was enjoying an unfair advantage. So it changed the law. While bills have been introduced in the Congress to revise or eliminate the GPO, to date they have gone nowhere.

Reg Jones is away until May 2. Daily posts of previously submitted questions will continue, while newer queries will be answered following his return.


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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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