Air Force civilians now eligible for phased retirement

Air Force civilians can now start working part-time while taking some of their retirement annuity.

Air Force civilians are now eligible for a phased retirement option and taking on a “semi-retired” status at the Defense Department.

The program is part of the DoD-wide initiative announced last June to give civilian workers the option to work on a part-time basis and receive a portion of their retirement annuity.

The phased retirement timeframe lasts for one year with the option to extend for an additional year.

Participation by Air Force civilian employees is voluntary. Those interested in participating must have been employed for at least three consecutive years. Employees need to have at least 30 years of service under their belt and reach the minimum retirement age. At age 60, employees only need 20 years of service.

The program gives retirees a chance to work less and use their expertise to mentor younger employees.

“This program allows dedicated employees with decades of experience to pass on critical knowledge to our other employees in the organization,” said Annette Castro, a human resource specialist at the Air Force Personnel Center. “It serves as a mentoring and training tool to ensure the next generation of civilians are prepared for success. Institutional knowledge is often difficult to replace.”

Phased retirees must mentor employees for at least 20 percent of their working hours.

While DoD is just beginning to roll out its phased retirement system, other areas of the government already have theirs in place. The results have not been very popular.

According to the Office of Personnel Management’s latest count, 252 federal employees have applied for phased retirement, as of Federal News Radio’s request at the end of June.

That’s up compared to only 90 applicants in August of last year.

In addition, 79 people have applied for the program and are now retired.

Still, uptake for the program has been largely sluggish, given the vast number of federal employees who are or will soon be eligible to retire — as much as 31 percent of the federal workforce by September 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office.

DoD civilian workers were waiting and asking for the phased retirement policy, Taiwanna Smith, the chief of benefits and work-life programs for the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service told Federal News Radio last year. DoD currently has about 77,000 people in the Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement System that are eligible for retirement.

“We worked really hard to develop the policy. What we did is establish a working group from several of the components and we came up with recommendations for the program requirements, the application procedures, the criteria for approval and also the criteria for denying requests. Basically, we looked at everything that would be necessary to implement the program,” Smith said.

DoD will continue to gradually work in phased retirement into other components of the department.


Phased retirement isn’t the only benefit getting some DoD workers out the door faster.

Last year, Congress approved a pilot program that increased Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay (VSIP) for DoD civilian workers to $40,000 for one year.

The House Armed Services Committee now wants to extend that incentive to 2021 in the 2018 defense authorization bill. Committee aides said the goal is to give DoD more options to control the size of its workforce.

Before Congress created the pilot program last year, VSIP had remained stagnant since 1993 at $25,000.

DoD used VSIPs in the past to mold the defense workforce. The department offers early retirement to positions that are not needed anymore or are in less demand so DoD can then hire employees for more needed jobs.

DoD is in the midst of headquarters staff cuts. The Pentagon is cutting 25 percent from its headquarters staff by 2020. Despite objections by DoD, the 2017 defense authorization bill makes future cuts to headquarters staff and puts ceilings on the number of people the department can have on its headquarters payroll.

The Senate version of the 2018 bill makes further cuts to the civilian force.

It requires DoD to reduce the number of deputy assistant secretaries of defense by 20 percent.

The bill continues to slash the number of Senior Executive Service personnel in the Pentagon by 10 percent.

The committee also wants to remove one assistant secretary from each military department.

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