Retirement Policy

A recent federal appeals court decision once again reaffirmed the general policy that federal employees and retirees cannot rely on the argument that they received bad advice in their benefits decision-making to change those decisions.

The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 05-3048, involved an employee who retired, elected not to provide a survivor annuity, and then died three weeks after the annuity was set to begin. His widow brought various arguments before an administrative judge of the Merit Systems Protection Board seeking a way to have a survivor annuity paid.

First, she contended that she and her husband had no understanding of retirement regulations and were not properly counseled by his agency regarding the consequences of their selection. However, the administrative judge rejected this argument because the Board may not make monetary payments not authorized by law, regardless of any error committed by the agency.

Second, she argued that she should have been allowed to change his election within 30 days after the first regular monthly payment. However, the AJ held that retirement law only permits an employee, and not a spouse, to change an election within the 30 days.

The MSPB upheld those decisions, and in its recent opinion, so did the Federal Circuit appeals court, which has jurisdiction to review MSPB cases. The court wrote that while it was