Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) Overview

The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) originated in 1920 and has provided retirement, disability and survivor benefits for most civilian employees in the Federal government. Prior to that time, many of the civilian employees in the Federal government simply worked until they died because there was no means of support for them if they were to quit their jobs. In fact, one Congressman noted in 1920 that "any observing person who during the last third of a century has walked through the corridors of the departments of the Government, or watched the clerks entering the various Government buildings in the mornings or leaving them at the close of day, must have noticed the large proportion of elderly and infirm among them."

While the original intent of the system was, in part at least, to provide for a means of replacing elderly and infirm employees, the system has evolved into an employee-oriented system. Since then, the Civil Service Retirement System has been a progressive element in the personnel management system. A strong retirement system is a significant part of the attraction to work for an employer, and has allowed the Federal government to attract and retain a professional and dedicated workforce. A Chairman of the former Civil Service Commission noted that the retirement system would operate "… for the mutual benefit of the Government and employees, contributing more effectively than ever to good Government, to good working conditions, and to happy retirements".

Upon enactment in 1920, over 4,000 employees, some in their 80's and 90's, took advantage of the new retirement law. The first to retire was Mr. Edwin B. Simonds who was 89 years old and had worked in the Pension Office for 37 years. By the end of the year, over 6,000 people had retired. Employees with over 30 years of service received 60 percent of their average salary - average over the previous 10 years! The maximum benefit was $720 a year.

Just as the functions of the retirement system have changed, so have its provisions. These changing provisions have enabled the Civil Service Retirement System to remain an important piece of the Federal personnel management structure. The system was originally administered by the Department of the Interior until 1930 when it moved to the new Veterans Administration. But in 1934, it found a home with the Civil Service Commission and in 1979 with the Office of Personnel Management.

Benefits have continued to evolve to the present time. They are now financed by both employee and Government contributions to the retirement fund, and provide benefits based on length of service and the average salary over the highest three years of pay.

This continuing need to modernize benefits resulted in the creation of a new Federal Employees Retirement System to replace the Civil Service Retirement System in 1987. However, there are still many civilian Federal employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System, and over 2 million people continue receiving Civil Service Retirement System retirement and survivor benefits each month.


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Page created 16 July 1998