Is Andrew McCabe’s Federal Pension at Risk if He is Fired?

NBC News reported that that the pension of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is at risk if he is fired. This claim has also been made in several other news sources, but it isn’t exactly the case.

McCabe stepped down in January and began using up his accrued leave until he is eligible for retirement on March 18. Federal law enforcement officers are eligible for early retirement with full pension benefits after age 50, a milestone that McCabe will reach this Sunday.

This week, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended that McCabe be fired for misconduct related to the disclosure of sensitive information to a reporter. If McCabe is terminated before Sunday, he will not be eligible for early retirement, but would remain eligible for his pension annuity upon turning 57, the mandatory retirement age for federal law enforcement officers.

The pension information of federal employees is generally protected from public disclosure. An exception was made in 2012 when the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) released a large database of pension data in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by investigative reporters Charles Babcock and Frank Bass. This release was probably made by an unaware staffer in contravention of OPM’s long-standing policy.

Federal pension annuity is calculated based on years of employment and the average salary of the three highest years. Based on reported information, McCabe began his career with the FBI in 1996 and reached the Senior Executive Service Level 4 pay grade in July 2015:

2015: $158,700
2016: $160,300
2017: $161,900
2018: $164,200

At these pay rates over the last three years, and with 21 complete years of service, McCabe would be eligible for a maximum pension of $56,200, assuming that he opted for the full level of benefits (10 percent of the annuity would be reserved for his spouse, unless she opted out of the benefit.) At some point this year, McCabe will have worked at the FBI for 22 years. This would add roughly $1,600 to his yearly annuity.

Note that because of the lack of detailed information, these calculations reflect a conservative estimate of his pension. McCabe could have been eligible for higher pay under the Bureau’s performance appraisal system. He also served as acting Director for less than three months which probably made him temporarily eligible for a higher salary.

Federal law provides for an enhanced retirement benefit for federal law enforcement officers who can retire early at the age of 50—in advance of the Minimum Retirement Age for other federal employees—and begin collecting their full annuity. Termination would remove this option, but McCabe would still be eligible for his full pension at the regular retirement age. Based on the calculations above, this would result in approximately $392,000 in foregone annuity payments over the next seven years. Rank and file federal workers can only forfeit their pension rights for acts of treason or espionage.