Tuesday 17th October 2017

Make federal pensions transparent

Every year, the federal government pays $125 billion in tax dollars for federal pensions. In spite of this being such a large amount of money, there is a remarkable lack of transparency surrounding these funds.

Taxpayers deserve to know the details of the lucrative pensions of career bureaucrats and members of Congress. Basic questions deserve answers: How many years were worked, how much money was paid-in and by whom, how quickly did they break-even on their own contributions, and just how much did the taxpayers finance?

Releasing data on federal pensions will require an act of Congress, and we are leading the way. The Taxpayer Funded Pension Disclosure Act will empower citizens with the data and technologies to hold their government accountable like never before.

Today, pension data is not merely opaque; it is literally hidden in an underground complex in Pennsylvania. Federal employees hand-calculate federal pensions in a process that has not changed since the Cold War era. How many mistakes has the government made in that cavernous complex? No one knows because we’re all in the dark.

The case for greater federal pension transparency can easily be made by looking at the fraud that has already been exposed by non-profit organizations like Open The Books at the state level. In the 32 states that have pension transparency – including California, Illinois, New York and Oregon – citizens have exposed significant amounts of waste and mismanagement.

Auditors at Open the Books uncovered a pair of union bosses in Illinois who taught as substitutes for one day in public schools and then retired, in order to collect a pension that will amount to $1 million dollars over their lifetime.

At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, data shows that a police lieutenant with a final salary of $129,000 received a starting pension of $172,000. An assistant airport operations manager retired with a final salary of $89,000, but soon began collecting a $103,000 pension. An electrician quit with a base salary of $76,000 and collected a pension of $79,000.

With relatively little transparency, we’ve found numerous examples of waste and abuse across the country. Consider what we’d find if we could see more at the federal level.

For instance, former IRS chief Lois Lerner used her authority to infringe the rights of American citizens and consistently obstructed congressional investigations. Wouldn’t it be nice to see her pension information? Her pension is estimated to equal nearly $2 million in lifetime payout.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, in 2012, 21,000 retired federal employees were collecting pensions exceeding $100,000. Since then, the number has likely doubled or tripled. Moody’s estimates federal employee pensions have a $3.5 trillion-dollar unfunded liability, with taxpayers on the hook to guarantee it all. All of this information should be posted online in real time.

Revealing this data across the board will allow citizens and policymakers to have a productive debate about pensions. Pulling this data out of the government’s underground pension cave and into the light will protect taxpayers, retirees, and near-retirees who have a right to ensure these taxpayer dollars are well-spent.

Mr. DeSantis represents Florida’s sixth district in the U.S. House and is sponsor of The Taxpayer-Funded Pension Disclosure Act. Mr. Andrzejewski is the CEO of OpenTheBooks.com.

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