Just How Long Have You Been In Civil Service?

Recently we talked a bit about the practicalities and legalities of what a federal employee’s actual “basic pay” really is.  Basic Pay is of course very important if for no other reason than it becomes one of the single biggest factors that determines how large an employee’s annuity (retirement check) will be.  If your “high three” basic pay doesn’t suit you, you may be able to take some actions before retirement that will improve it.  But the other factor that really counts, and about which you can usually do much less is your time in Federal Service  here’s some expert guidance from Government Executive magazine.

Document Your Service

Length of service is one of the most important concepts for which you must take responsibility. Your agency has maintained your personnel records throughout your career, but you will need to verify that those records are complete and that they accurately reflect your federal service. Remember that every month of service is worth 1/12 of 2 percent (CSRS) or 1/12 of 1 percent (FERS) of your high-three average salary for the rest of your life.

You need to maintain clear records that document the history of your entire federal career. This means having the employee copy of all of the SF-50 forms that show beginning and ending dates of federal service, military service records and even records of that temporary summer job that you performed for the National Park Service in 1972. If you haven’t done this, then schedule an appointment to review your official personnel file to be sure that this documentation exists. And ask for copies of any documents not in your own files at home.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Senator Mark Warner

I can’t begin to emphasize to you just how important this documentation may become.  You may find some error in the future that tries to deprive you of some of your service time.  You may have a problem during a divorce case where absolutely proving what you are entitled to (or not entitled to) is crucial to your legal and financial well being.  Or you might (more personal experience here, *sigh*) have the Defense Accounting and Finance Service (DFAS), the folks who actually put the money in your bank account come at you from “out of the blue” and claim that you have been overpaid for a period of years.  If you think that your agency is going to keep the records that will ‘save your bacon” then you better think again.  When a court or  another government agency alleges that you owe something, the only possible defense is that you have records to show otherwise … else it’s pretty much a case of “take out your pen and write the check”.


As always remember that this site, although written by a retiree with substantial experience in the school of hard knocks, it is for personal, lay opinions and informational purposes only. If you have a legal question you should seek help from a legal professional. If you have questions involving current or future values of pensions you need an actuary or competent pension valuation expert. If your questions are tax-related, seek a competent tax advisor. In other cases, I recommend the base chaplain.

You can comment on this post, you can email me at: davestarr (at) gmail (dot) com or you can call me at: 1-719-966-4295


  1. The longer in civil srevice , the higher the retirement..

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