Select Group of Federal Retirees Collect Six-Figure Pensions

United States Post Office
Timothy Fadek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
United States Post Office

More than 21,000 retired federal workers receive lifetime government pensions of $100,000 or more per year, a USA TODAY/Gannett analysis finds.

Of these, nearly 2,000 have federal pensions that pay $125,000 or more annually, and 151 take home $150,000 or more. Six federal retirees get more than $200,000 a year.

Some 1.2 percent of federal retirees collect six-figure pensions. By comparison, 0.1 percent of military retirees collect as much.

The New York State and Local Retirement System pays 0.2 percent of its retirees pensions of $100,000 or more. The New Jersey retirement system pays 0.4 percent of retirees that much. Comparable private figures aren't available.

The six-figure pensions spread across a broad swath of the federal workforce: doctors, budget analysts, accountants, public relations specialists and human resource managers. Most do not get Social Security benefits.

Retired law enforcement is the most common profession receiving $100,000-plus pensions, including 326 Drug Enforcement Administration agents, 237 IRS investigators and 186 FBI agents.

The Postal Service has 714 retired workers getting six-figure retirements. The Social Security Administration has 444. A retired Smithsonian zoologist has a $162,000 annual lifetime pension.

The six $200,000-plus pensions include a doctor, a dentist and a credit union regulator, plus three retirees whose occupations weren't listed.

Pensions are a growing federal budget burden, rising twice as fast as inflation over the last decade. Pension payments cost $70 billion last year, plus $13 billion for retiree health care. Taxpayers face a $2 trillion unfunded liability — the amount needed to cover future benefits — for these programs, according to the government's audited financial statement. (Read: The Truth About the Post Office's Financial Mess.)

"These people are highly trained, highly skilled and often put their lives on the line in law enforcement," says Julie Tagen, legislative director of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. "It's a very, very small portion of retirees at that ($100,000) level."

"Government pensions are vastly more generous than those in the private sector," says economist Veronique de Rugy of the market-oriented Mercatus Center. "It's no coincidence that if there is a good plan, it's available to federal employees rather than in the private sector."

USA TODAY and the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press— both owned by Gannett — analyzed the Civil Service Retirement System database, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Office of Personnel Management withheld some information, including names, ages and length of service.

The records cover 1.9 million federal civilian pensions. Congress members were not included, nor were military retirees.

The average federal pension pays $32,824 annually. The average state and local government pension pays $24,373, Census data show. The average military pension is $22,492. ExxonMobil, which has one of the best remaining private pensions, pays an average of $18,250 per retiree, Labor Department filings show.

The federal government has two retirement systems: one for those hired before 1984 and another for those hired after. Under the older system, employees did not participate in Social Security. The older system covers 78 percent of current retirees and accounts for 96 percent of six-figure pensions. All federal retirees receive health benefits.