• on Oct 16th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 13 comments
    There has been a surplus in the U.S. Postal Service’s Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) pension program since 1992. Most recently, the FERS surplus was projected to be $11.4 billion, accounting for most of the Postal Service’s total $13.1 billion pension surplus. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) asked Hay Group, an actuarial firm, to examine the causes of the FERS surplus, and a new OIG white paper presents the results of Hay Group’s work. Hay Group found that the main reason for the surplus was differences between the Postal Service and the rest of the federal government. In particular, postal salary growth was lower than the assumptions made in the liability estimates. The surplus grew as actual postal experience replaced the initial assumptions used for the entire FERS population. Hay Group recommends using Postal Service-specific assumptions to provide a more accurate estimate of the liability. When Postal Service-specific assumptions are used to measure the Postal Service’s liability, the surplus increases from $11.4 billion to $24 billion. Given the Postal Service’s current financial health, the existence of the FERS surplus raises some questions. What should be done about the postal FERS surplus? Right now, there is no mechanism to return a FERS surplus once it occurs. Also, what about the contribution rate? The Postal Service currently pays the same FERS contribution rate as other federal agencies, 11.9 percent of payroll for most employees. This contribution rate has increased twice in the past 3 years despite the existence of a surplus for the Postal Service. Should the Postal Service’s contributions be adjusted to reflect its specific characteristics? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
  • on May 3rd, 2010 in Labor | 11 comments
    The Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) is one of the retirement programs of the U.S. government, and benefits are extended to U.S. Postal Service employees. FERS is administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Congress established the guidelines for OPM to set contribution rates and can alter them by passing new law or amending an existing law. Postal Service employees who began their careers after December 31, 1983, are automatically enrolled in the FERS. For Postal Service employees, a majority of FERS funding is accomplished through Postal Service contributions. The rest is paid by postal employees. During fiscal year 2009, the Postal Service contributed $3 billion to FERS or 11.2 percent of the salaries for FERS employees. As of September 30, 2009, the Postal Service reported a fully funded FERS pension plan that exceeds liabilities by $6.8 billion.

    It’s no secret the Postal Service is in a financial crisis after a $3.8 billion loss in 2009, and a projected $7 billion loss for 2010 after approximately $4 billion in cost reductions. In January 2010, the OIG reported that the Postal Service had been overcharged for FERS’s sister retirement plan, the Civil Service Retirement System or CSRS, by $75 billion. There is a complication that may reduce the FERS surplus in the future. President Obama recently signed a bill granting credit for unused sick leave for FERS retirees. The exact effect on the pension liability is unknown, but it doesn’t take an actuary to understand that it creates an additional future obligation. If the Postal Service has met its current financial obligations for FERS, should it be relieved of its future contributions? What do you think? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Office of Audit Financial Reporting team.