Federal Pensions:

Judicial Survivors' Annuities System Costs and Benefit Levels

GGD-97-87: Published: Jun 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed certain aspects of the Judicial Survivors' Annuities System (JSAS), focusing on: (1) the system's costs; (2) whether the participants' contributions covered one-half of the costs; and (3) the adjustments needed to achieve the 50-percent figure if the contributions are less than one half of the system's costs.

GAO noted that: (1) the participating judges did not pay one-half of the JSAS normal cost during fiscal years 1994 and 1995, they paid about 36 percent; (2) based on information contained in JSAS' 1995 actuarial report, to cover one-half of the future costs, the judges' contribution would need to increase 0.9 percentage points above the 2.2 percent of salary currently paid by active and senior judges and the 3.5 percent of annuities paid by retired judges; (3) however, increasing required contributions could affect the judges' rate of participation, and increasing participation was one of the major reasons for enhancing JSAS' benefits and reducing the judges' contributions in 1992; (4) JSAS' benefits are greater than those available to the majority of federal employees; (5) JSAS provides greater spousal and children benefits, expressed as a percentage of salary, than those for employees under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), and the military's Survivor Benefit Plan; (6) JSAS benefits also are greater than those for Members of Congress; (7) while a direct comparison of contribution rates for active participants among the plans could not be made because of differing program designs, retired judges under JSAS contributed a smaller percentage of their annuities for survivor benefits than retired general employees and Members of Congress under CSRS and FERS and retired members of the military; (8) two judicial plans in GAO's study provided spousal and children benefits that were similar to JSAS; and (9) also, JSAS included features that were not available in the other survivor plans GAO studied.

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