Show Me The Buyout!

Senior Correspondent Mike Causey has stepped away from the keyboard for a much-needed break. While he ponders why the new OMB cookie policy does not come down firmly on the side of snickerdoodles, we present “The Most Popular Federal Reports”. This column was originally published on February 23, 2009, and has been edited for dating. sk

Hollywood’s version of Washington, D.C. often features a government gone nuts: either a rogue unit of the DEA, an insane CIA director, or a corrupt Vice President. Not a very flattering (or accurate) picture of what’s really going on.

The hero of the anti-Washington, anti-establishment movie is sometimes the one-honest-cop, a crusading reporter or a cynical but honest lawyer. Government officials and government employees are portrayed, at best, as bozos.

I think they should try to make a more realistic D.C. movie (maybe even filmed in D.C.) about what is really important to many people.

I have a title. And I know the best qualified guy to write the screenplay. He’s been around a long time, and he works cheap. We are very close. The title of the Washington reality show:


VSIP, as any speaker of governmentese knows, stands for Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment. Somebody figured that is much easier to say (and not as crass-sounding) as buyout. But a VSIP is a buyout and a buyout is a VSIP.

Scarcely a day goes by that Federal News Radio (and other media covering the government) doesn’t get a request from somebody who wants to know if buyouts are out there, if so where, and finally how can they get one?

VSIPs were set up in the early 1990s to help the Clinton administration get rid of nearly 300,000 civil servants. The payments then, and now, are for a maximum of $25,000. And that’s before deductions. After federal, state and other taxes and deductions, the buyout is worth between $16,000 and $18,000.

Buyouts were plentiful for a couple of years in the 90s. Many were agency-wide. Defense got most of them and the plan was to target long-time feds who, because they had seniority and veterans preference, couldn’t be reached in a reduction-in-force.

Although easier to come by now (Congress gave most agencies unlimited authority to offer buyouts), the VSIPs are few and far between. Agencies and departments no longer offer them to everybody. Or even most people. They tend to be targeted to specific agencies, bureaus, geographic locations and even specific jobs and grade levels.

So who’s been offering buyouts?

The Enviromental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services and Interior, plus the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Election Commission.

But those buyouts are targeted: EPA’s for example, dealt only with the Office of Research and Development. And it ended months ago.

Energy’s buyout offer to the Offices of Intelligence/Counterintelligence ran last year, and expired in January, 2009.

The buyout for DoE’s office of the inspector general ran through the end of last September.

Health and Human Services buyout covered the Centers for Disease Control and the NCPDCID, which as you know, is the National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases.

Energy’s buyout ran all year but was limited to its Health, Safety & Security operation.

The FEC’s buyout, which ended last year as well, was targeted to the Chief Financial Officer operation.

The buyout offered by Interior was of little interest to anyone who doesn’t work in its Boise, Idaho office. Another covers its National Geospatial Technical Center in Colorado and Missouri through March, 2011.

The agency-wide VSIP for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Information Office runs through September 2010.

Finally, the SEC’s buyout plan which ran through the end of the fiscal year (September 30th) covers only administrative services in the D.C. area.

There are a few holdover buyouts from last year. But for the most part, there isn’t much action, at least for now, in most places. And it’s still dwindling.

To reach me:

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