Swallows, Buzzards and Buyouts

America is a young nation, but it has more than its share of folklore. And because of the way we grew, east to west, many traditions and beliefs are regional. For instance:

  • Each March, many people in California celebrate the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, an old Spanish mission. It is a lovely (and this is only about the fourth time in my life I’ve used the word lovely) tradition. And it’s a couple of centuries old. The swallows are said to return each St. Joseph’s Day.
  • Also in March, folks in northern Ohio commemorate the return of the buzzards (that’t right, turkey buzzards) to Hinckley, Ohio. It is unclear why they’ve been returning to this particular spot each year since 1957, but midwesterners are a friendly group and they don’t ask for much. One Cleveland radio rock station has made the buzzard its logo.
  • Finally, each year about this time, long-time — often long-suffering — federal and postal workers get grapevine fever. They hear that a special buyout deal is in the works. It’s goal: To lure the several hundred thousands feds who are still under the old Civil Service Retirement System to retire. It makes sense, especially to people who would benefit from it. But it isn’t true. But like the buzzards and the swallows it comes back year after year.

    Here’s an e-mail from a reader:

    “…the rumors are coming right and left. I spoke with a friend who works for Social Security. He said the rumor is that SSA is giving the CSRS employees $50,000 AND adding four years to service as an early-out. On Saturday my wife and I were shopping and met another friend who works for the U.S. Postal Service. He said the same rumor is flowing through the grapevine at the USPS. Can you confirm that this rumor is true? Thanks.” ~R.G.

    Short Answer: Not true!

    There will be no buyout or special retirement offer directed at CSRS personnel. Not this year. Or next.

    Also, it didn’t happen last year despite the rumors. Or the year before. Or 30 years ago when the first superbuyout/early retirement rumor was launched.

    At that time, for FERS replaced CSRS for new hires, the rumor was called the Triple Nickle or 5-5-5. Why? Because, according to the rumor, agencies were going to offer a $5,000 paymment, plus add five years to the age of the buyout taker and five years to his or her service time.

    Triple Nickle, get it?

    But it didn’t happen.

    But a couple of things have happened.

    First, the rumor has been adjusted for inflation. A $5,000 payment was a lot of money 30 years ago — but now the rumored pay-to-go amount has risen to $50,000. If you hang around long enough it will probably go to $75,000 in a couple of years. And be equally untrue.

    Secondly, the internet has made it possible for rumors — true or false — to spread like wildfire. And because many people want to believe, want it to happen, it makes sense. To them.

    But the fact is that the government is worried about a “brain drain”. Officials have been predicting a retirement Tsunami since the late 1990’s. A mass exodus of experienced (mostly CSRS) personnel who will be hard to replace. This is especially true in some occupations — like air traffic controllers — who have a mandatory retirement age. The huge class of the 1980’s is hitting retirement time.

    In fact, what Congress and the administration are doing is looking at plans or legislation that would encourage employees to phase-out their retirement over several years. Or give special bonuses and payments to feds who will stay on the job or come back into government. Or permit retirees with special skills to come back and get both their full pay and keep their full retirement.


    Don’t count in it.

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