Federal Retirement

Key Elements Are Included in Agencies' Education Programs Gao ID: GGD-99-27 March 29, 1999

Federal workers covered by either of the government's two main retirement programs could retire with dramatically different benefits depending on whether and how they plan for retirement throughout their careers. Agencies' retirement education programs play an important role in helping federal employees make well-informed decisions about retirement planning. However, little is known about how agencies fulfill this role. This report discusses the views of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and retirement experts on the recommended elements of retirement education programs and describes OPM's and agencies' retirement education roles, responsibilities, and practices in the context of these elements.

GAO noted that: (1) OPM and the experts with whom GAO consulted held generally consistent views regarding the recommended content, presentation formats, and timing of retirement education programs; (2) they believed that these programs should provide employees with information on certain topics, or content such as plan features and financial planning, and that other agencies should consider using multiple formats so as to accommodate employees' varying needs; (3) they also believed that such information should be provided early and throughout employees' careers; (4) OPM provided guidance to agencies on the design and implementation of retirement education programs and supplemented the guidance with educational materials, training, and technical advice for agencies' benefits staff; (5) agencies had primary responsibility for designing and implementing their programs according to their agency-specific needs; (6) the retirement education programs of the agencies reviewed generally included those topics recommended by OPM and the experts; (7) in providing retirement education, agencies' officials said that they made information available on a variety of topics, including the specific features of CSRS and FERS, the requirements for maintaining federal health and life insurance benefits in retirement, and financial planning for retirement; (8) agencies' officials told GAO that they used a wide variety of presentation formats to communicate retirement education to their employees; (9) all of the agencies that GAO reviewed provided employees with written educational materials that were supplemented with interactive seminars and one-on-one counseling; (10) agencies provided retirement planning information, but not advice, regardless of the presentation format used; (11) agencies' officials also said that they generally provided retirement education to employees during their initial orientation and throughout their careers; (12) all of the agencies in GAO's review sponsored seminars designed for those employees who were nearing retirement eligibility; (13) some agencies also sponsored additional seminars that were specifically designed for employees who had approximately 15 years of federal service to encourage employees to begin planning for their retirement earlier in their careers; (14) agencies also provided one-on-one counseling at any time upon request; and (15) agencies believed that retirement education is a shared responsibility between agencies and employees, and that employees must ultimately decide for themselves whether or when to seek retirement information.

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