In Re: McCabe’s Pension

A lot of the commentary about the McCabe firing concerns the fact that being fired Friday night means his pension, supposedly with a value of something like $1.7 million (not sure if that is some kind of net-present value figure or other basis), won’t fully vest, lending verisimilitude to the idea that the firing was a politically vindictive move by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (And keep in mind amidst the typical lousy reporting: McCabe isn’t losing all his pension benefits—he’ll still collect a pension, just a lesser amount.)

Here’s the thing: McCabe is 50 years old. (In fact, today is McCabe’s birthday, which is why he needed to last to today even though he was effectively fired by FBI director Wray several weeks ago. Happy birthday Andrew.) And he gets that kind of pension when he will undoubtedly go on to work in the private sector? But more to the point: if we moved public employees from defined-benefit pensions to defined contribution pensions (that is, 401Ks) like most everyone else in the private sector, McCabe would probably have an actual account balance in the same neighborhood that would belong to him, in which case it wouldn’t matter when or if he was fired because no one could take it away from him, and he wouldn’t have had to serve out the clock to his 50th birthday or 20-year mark. And since 401K plans are largely transferrable, he could continue building it up at his next position in the private sector, or with another government agency.

It would be the height of irony if one unintended effect of the McCabe firing is adding some force behind efforts to reform public sector pensions at all levels.