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Fed Jobs - Pros and Cons?
Old 02-26-2008, 05:29 PM   #1
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Fed Jobs - Pros and Cons?

I am considering applying for a federal job as a foreign language teacher. The language in question is my first language and I have some previous experience in teaching, so I am confident in my skills.

I am curious as to what other Federal employees see as pros and cons of federal jobs. Since there are many Fed employees here, I thought I might as well start here.

Also, is it true that after a certain number of years, you get lifetime health insurance? When it comes to retirement, I seem to recall that it's more like a 401(k) system now. Is that in addition to a pension? What is the pension like?

(I currently work for a municipal government, so I have seen bureaucracy, but I don't know how it compares with the Federal level).

I know these are pretty basic questions, and may be too broad. Thanks in advance for your assistance.
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Old 02-26-2008, 05:33 PM   #2
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I am curious as to what other Federal employees see as pros and cons of federal jobs. Since there are many Fed employees here, I thought I might as well start here.
You put your finger on one of the biggest pros. Federal jobs allow so many to be here- either because they have lots of spare time at work, or because Federal Benefits set you up fairly well for a secure early retirement.

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Old 02-26-2008, 05:41 PM   #3
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I am considering applying for a federal job as a foreign language teacher. The language in question is my first language and I have some previous experience in teaching, so I am confident in my skills.

I am curious as to what other Federal employees see as pros and cons of federal jobs. Since there are many Fed employees here, I thought I might as well start here.

Also, is it true that after a certain number of years, you get lifetime health insurance? When it comes to retirement, I seem to recall that it's more like a 401(k) system now. Is that in addition to a pension? What is the pension like?

(I currently work for a municipal government, so I have seen bureaucracy, but I don't know how it compares with the Federal level).

I know these are pretty basic questions, and may be too broad. Thanks in advance for your assistance.
I think my federal job is a good deal. It doesn't pay as well as jobs in industry, but the job stability and benefits are part of the package and make it worthwhile. Some, but not all federal jobs actually stick to a 40 hour week, which is a rarity these days. I do know some federal employees at another facility that are expected to work very long hours and just record 40 hours. But usually, 40 hours is all you have to work. If I work more, then I get comp time.

The pension is computed from the average of your highest three years' salary (called the "hi-3"). Multiply your years of federal service times hi-3, times .01 and that will give you an idea of what your pension will be, though it's more with over 30 years' service and so on. (You can find more info on that on opm.gov .) You are vested in your pension after a few years (I've forgotten if it's 3 or 5 years). As you can tell, your pension may be pretty tiny.

The TSP is the federal equivalent of a 401K. You get 5% match. Most of your retirement will be TSP and not pension.

Whether or not you actually like your job itself, really depends on your agency and the people you work with. Can't help you there. My own job is a lot less scientifically stimulating than prior jobs on the outside. But I have a lot more responsibility than I had on the outside, too.

When you qualify to retire, you get lifetime medical. It seems to me that this benefit alone, plus medical insurance while you work, makes a federal job almost a necessity given the health care problems lately.

A good message board to check out for more detailed answers from federal employees would be at FederalSoup.com - A place to share, debate and discuss.
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Thanks!
Old 02-26-2008, 09:27 PM   #4
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Thanks!

Thanks for the information and links! From opm.gov, it looks like the Minimum Retirement Age is 57 for those born after 1970. Is that right?

Hypothetically, if I started at age 30 and worked until 57, I would have 27 years of eligibility. Then the pension = "Hi-3" x 0.27, and I would be eligible for health insurance benefits (*except that I won't be able to take the pension until age 60, or take a reduced pension immediately). The other option is to work until 60, by which time the pension will be "Hi-3" x 30, and there's no reduction. Am I reading this right?

Sorry. I know it is tacky to ask so much about benefits before even taking the job. I AM worried about the cost of health care and think it's only getting worse, plus everyone in my family seems to be living well into their 90s.

Thanks a ton.
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Old 02-26-2008, 09:30 PM   #5
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I wouldn't count on governments being able to foot the bill on health insurance forever either. Specially if you have a long time horizon before you retire.
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Old 02-26-2008, 09:46 PM   #6
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I wouldnt count on it either...doesnt really make sense that everyone else is taking it away and only gov. employees will keep? I suspect universal care will happen at some point before 27 years...
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Old 02-26-2008, 09:48 PM   #7
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Thanks for the information and links! From opm.gov, it looks like the Minimum Retirement Age is 57 for those born after 1970. Is that right?

Hypothetically, if I started at age 30 and worked until 57, I would have 27 years of eligibility. Then the pension = "Hi-3" x 0.27, and I would be eligible for health insurance benefits (*except that I won't be able to take the pension until age 60, or take a reduced pension immediately). The other option is to work until 60, by which time the pension will be "Hi-3" x 30, and there's no reduction. Am I reading this right?

Sorry. I know it is tacky to ask so much about benefits before even taking the job. I AM worried about the cost of health care and think it's only getting worse, plus everyone in my family seems to be living well into their 90s.

Thanks a ton.
That would be how I would figure the pension at 57. At present you would also get a supplement equal to your social security until you reached 62, and then social security (though who knows the future of that). This is why you really do need to contribute heavily to the TSP. You can get the health benefits based on an immediate reduced pension, but may have them denied otherwise depending on whether your pension is considered deferred or delayed. So, doing that seems a little tricky to me and I plan to take a reduced immediate pension just to play it safe. There are retirement seminars that cover all of this better than I could, but I think you have some of the basics figured out.

Overall I think it's a good deal. You are probably going to have a hard time finding many job opportunities outside of federal service that have such a good benefits package. I wish I could persuade my daughter to follow a federal career! But it doesn't appeal to her.
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Old 02-26-2008, 11:15 PM   #8
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Thanks! The TSP system is way better than the tax-deferred 457(b) plan I get now, which has only a $100/YEAR match from my employer.

It's really hard to try to plan for 30 years into the future. I can only make the best choice based on what information we have today. On the other hand, even if health insurance changes, job security is unlikely to change so much, and that's very important to me as well.

Thanks again.
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:07 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by GoodSense View Post
I am considering applying for a federal job as a foreign language teacher. The language in question is my first language and I have some previous experience in teaching, so I am confident in my skills.

I am curious as to what other Federal employees see as pros and cons of federal jobs. Since there are many Fed employees here, I thought I might as well start here.

Also, is it true that after a certain number of years, you get lifetime health insurance? When it comes to retirement, I seem to recall that it's more like a 401(k) system now. Is that in addition to a pension? What is the pension like?

(I currently work for a municipal government, so I have seen bureaucracy, but I don't know how it compares with the Federal level).

I know these are pretty basic questions, and may be too broad. Thanks in advance for your assistance.
i worked for uncle sam for 18+ years. let me see if i can address some of your questions. first off, go to US Office of Personnel Management and search on some of the benefits under FERS (federal employees retirement system), like keywords like "FERS TSP", "FEGLI", "FERS life insurance", "FERS benefits" , etc. OPM publishes some great online handbooks on these. Ignore anything that says CSRS, the "old" federal retirement system.

why work for the fed? IMHO...
PROs - defined benefit plans (health/life ins), defined retirement plan (pension), job security, paid training, tuition assistance in most agencies for advanced degrees, extensive travel opportunites, prof conference attendance, annual increases to your salary, etc
CONs - bureaucracy, more paperwork, lower payscale unless in a shortage category, regulatory constrictions to a sense of personal freedom and creativity, extensive travel demands (maybe), etc

I do not regret a single year of federal service. some of the office politics went awry, but you'll get that anywhere.

did that help?
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:12 AM   #10
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The pension is computed from the average of your highest three years' salary (called the "hi-3"). Multiply your years of federal service times hi-3, times .01 and that will give you an idea of what your pension will be, though it's more with over 30 years' service and so on. (You can find more info on that on opm.gov .) You are vested in your pension after a few years (I've forgotten if it's 3 or 5 years). As you can tell, your pension may be pretty tiny.

The TSP is the federal equivalent of a 401K. You get 5% match. Most of your retirement will be TSP and not pension.
I see GoodSense you are only 30 - another option you may want to consider if you are thinking of going federal and want to retire early is trying to get into a 6C Law Enforcement Retirement position -

6C Law Enforcement Offices/Agents can retire at age 50 with 20 years or at any-age with 25 years.

Under 6C, the FERS pension is calculated at 1.7% * Hi-3 annual salary * 20 years. (rather than normal FERS calculation of 1%) Under 6C, any additional years you accumulate over (or before) your twenty 6C years are calculated at the normal FERS 1% including any military years you buy-back.

You can retire at age 50 with 20 years & immediately begin receiving the FERS pension + a Special Retirement Supplement (SRS - an extra payment that approximates a portion of what you will receive in Social Security when you are 62 - the SRS goes away at 62 & you start getting SS).

The FERS pension is immediately eligible for annual COLA if you retire 6c (but not the SRS) The SRS is not means-tested till you are 56 - from 56 to 62 it can be reduced $1 for every $2 you earn over 13K.

You can contribute up to $15.5 K each year into your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) & govt will match 5%.

If you retire in the year you turn 55 you can begin TSP withdrawals without the 10% penalty.

If you retire before the year you turn 55, however, any TSP withdrawals before age 59.5 are subject to the 10% penalty UNLESS: you either
  • buy an annuity (usually a bad idea);
  • take "substantially equal monthly payments based on life expectancy" (SEMPLE);
  • or roll it all over to a private IRA & use IRS rule 72T to take the SEMPLE.
Most Federal Criminal Investigators (Series 1811) are eligible throughout their careers for LEAP Pay (Law Enforcement Availability Pay) - this is an automatic 25% pay boost & the idea is that you will work at least 25% extra hours on call-outs, extended surveillance, etc - if you are an 1811 this is practically guaranteed, but you will likely receive little if any other type of overtime compensation. Good thing is that LEAP pay counts for your Hi-3 annuity calculation.

Some other Federal Law Enforcement positions get AUO (Authorized Uncontrollable Overtime) - this can be from 10% to 25% depending on your duty position and is usually 25% - it works about the same way LEAP does. (Border Patrol has always gotten this)

Some Federal Law Enforcement Positions get neither LEAP nor AUO - but usually those positions receive some (or substantial depending on the agency) regular time-and-a-half overtime.

Most positions (whether secretary, teacher, or correctional officer) inside a federal correctional institution where you will have contact with inmates is covered under 6C retirement.

Air Traffic Controllers & Federal Firefighters have a similar system to 6c.

Be careful when considering jobs though - there are some "law enforcement" positions that do NOT get the 6C retirement.
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:27 AM   #11
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While federal benefits are terrific compared to private industry, not all federal jobs are good ones. DW worked some long hard hours doing funds administration for bioterrorism research - especially after 9-11 - and the job was literally making her sick. Plus she was going in on weekends, sometimes both days, resulting in some seven-day work weeks. In fairness she also received bonuses for her work ethic, but at a cost to her well-being. She had headaches, back & shoulder pains, etc. which was one of the reasons we decided to "pull the plug" and bail out of the rat race. So the office where you end up matters a lot. Alternatively, another relative has worked for the federal govt. 30+ years and enjoys it. He also has a high tolerance for bureaucracy, a requirement for federal govt. service.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:18 AM   #12
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why work for the fed? IMHO...
PROs - [...] extensive travel opportunites, prof conference attendance
And, depending on how long you have been doing it, and how much you like flying to meetings that can often entail not only jet lag but more formal dress and longer hours than your daily work (and often with food brought in which may not be very healthy), and what your job and conference related responsibilities are once you get there, often one or both of these aspects move from the "PROS" column to the "CONS" although it is always nice to see old friends. Work is, well, work. My paycheck is sufficient that I feel it covers any discomfort or inconvenience, but some might not consider these to be "PROS" and usually I regard the travel/conferences requirements of my job as a PITA.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:27 AM   #13
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While federal benefits are terrific compared to private industry, not all federal jobs are good ones.
You can say that again. I happen to have a good one, but I have heard some really bad stories about various jobs in other agencies.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:39 AM   #14
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And, depending on how long you have been doing it, and how much you like flying to meetings that can often entail not only jet lag but more formal dress and longer hours than your daily work (and often with food brought in which may not be very healthy), and what your job and conference related responsibilities are once you get there, often one or both of these aspects move from the "PROS" column to the "CONS" although it is always nice to see old friends. Work is, well, work. My paycheck is sufficient that I feel it covers any discomfort or inconvenience, but some might not consider these to be "PROS" and usually I regard the travel/conferences requirements of my job as a PITA.
you are right on with that with travel. i was lucky enough to select my travel schedule. i could do the majority of periodic contract status reviews by telecon or videoteleconference to keep costs down on both sides.

absolutely, positively..a PRO to some is a CON to another, depending on family needs, health, personal goals, etc etc.

travel was great in my first 10 years, as i got to go to a lot of great cities for techie conferences. it became a real hassle and minimized in my last 8 years due to my carpal tunnel and RSI.

a blessing and a curse...
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:42 AM   #15
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You can say that again. I happen to have a good one, but I have heard some really bad stories about various jobs in other agencies.
i will spare you all the details of my ordeal. LOL

now that i'm not there, i can put on my rose colored glasses and wax philosophical.

how a person is treated is locally controlled. but as a fed, you do have a host of protective regs to keep the worst abuses from happening. theoretically.
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Old 02-27-2008, 09:00 AM   #16
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I am curious where you would teach? I went to the Defense Language School in Monterey, California. If you were going to teach in that setting, I would say go for it!
The retirement benefits are as good as you will find anywhere, and the teachers I dealt with really enjoyed their jobs. There were 6 hours of classroom each day, however, some of those were spent in labs. A two hour lunch break, to give students time to get daily things done. A real relaxed atmosphere. Class size was 4 to 8 people.
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Old 02-27-2008, 02:03 PM   #17
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why work for the fed? IMHO...
PROs - defined benefit plans (health/life ins), defined retirement plan (pension), job security, paid training, tuition assistance in most agencies for advanced degrees, extensive travel opportunites, prof conference attendance, annual increases to your salary, etc
CONs - bureaucracy, more paperwork, lower payscale unless in a shortage category, regulatory constrictions to a sense of personal freedom and creativity, extensive travel demands (maybe), etc
I think since the war, extensive travel opportunities and conference attendance have been cut back. Our budget cuts have been getting worse and worse every year. I guess it depends on the job but the last two agencies I worked for having been cutting costs like crazy.
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Old 02-27-2008, 02:32 PM   #18
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I think since the war, extensive travel opportunities and conference attendance have been cut back. Our budget cuts have been getting worse and worse every year. I guess it depends on the job but the last two agencies I worked for having been cutting costs like crazy.
Yes, I guess it depends on the agency and the job, and how fast one's unit rips through travel money during the year. We have been cutting costs, but not as much as I might like in travel and conference attendence.

Sometimes at a certain point in the year, we are told that travel money is running short. While silently thinking, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I try to say with a straight face, "I don't have anything THAT pressing". Unfortunately, even with a travel freeze someone is likely to juggle some money around and find a way to pay for mission related travel.
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Old 02-27-2008, 03:08 PM   #19
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I am curious where you would teach? I went to the Defense Language School in Monterey, California. If you were going to teach in that setting, I would say go for it!
The retirement benefits are as good as you will find anywhere, and the teachers I dealt with really enjoyed their jobs. There were 6 hours of classroom each day, however, some of those were spent in labs. A two hour lunch break, to give students time to get daily things done. A real relaxed atmosphere. Class size was 4 to 8 people.
ah, Monterey. One of those choice TDYs in my salad days. I attended mandatory training there. It was a real tough trip for me, from icy NYS to sunny CA.

what is the name of the tree that has been photgraphed over and over there. was it at Punta Loma ? <distant past brain cells activating>
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:40 PM   #20
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ah, Monterey. One of those choice TDYs in my salad days. I attended mandatory training there. It was a real tough trip for me, from icy NYS to sunny CA.

what is the name of the tree that has been photgraphed over and over there. was it at Punta Loma ? <distant past brain cells activating>
I was sent to Monterey for meetings last year. The aquarium brought tears to my eyes - - it was so beautiful. I was only able to get away from meetings and see it over the lunch hour, so I had to practically sprint through it, despite spending $23 for my ticket which seemed like a lot to me. Other than the aquarium trip, I wished I was back at home.
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