Is the buyout fairy knocking on your door?

Editor’s Note: Mr. Causey remains on vacation – lucky dog! This column was initially posted June 2, 2011. It has been edited slightly from its original version for dating purposes only.

Buyouts are coming. But are you ready? Do you fit the profile? For example…

A friend (actually a very close relative) once worked for a company that had a to-die-for severance package. So, like George Costanza in the Seinfeld TV series, he set out to get fired. In his efforts to get the heave-ho, he did everything, including nothing.


Nothing worked.

He couldn’t get fired. No severance.

His insolence was interpreted as intelligence. His indifference was seen as depth. His sometimes zany behavior was considered morale-boosting. He could do no wrong.

After more than a year of trying to get fired, his company merged with another and he, and most other employees, lost his job. No severance. But an interesting year, for sure.

Many federal (and postal) workers find themselves in a similar situation. They are ready, willing and able to leave but nervous about the economy. The tipping point, for many, would be a buyout. If Uncle Sam would offer them a buyout, they said, that would do it. Some would take regular retirement. Others would take early-retirement just to get out (or maybe away from commuting, or an unpleasant boss, or to sleep late. Whatever.) But they’d go with a buyout even if the maximum $25,000 payment shrunk, big time, after deductions.

In order to benefit from a buyout two things must happen:

  1. Your agency must offer one.
  2. You must fit a certain profile to get one.

A lot of people think you have a buyout and everybody and anybody eligible gets it. Not so.

Buyouts during the 1990s were widespread. Although they were targeted to some extent, just about anybody at or close to retirement was eligible. But the new breed of buyouts doesn’t work that way. In many instances a department, for example, will offer buyouts but limit them to selected agencies or divisions within the department. Or limit them to certain grade levels. Or to specific occupations. Or even geographic areas. In some cases all three.

Case in point. We reported that the Agriculture Department is offering early-outs and buyouts on a very selective basis. Only three units (ARS, APHIS and NRCS) within the department are offering the early outs and Government Executive said that only 544 employees have the buyout option. An employee in Rapid City, S. Dakota said staffers have been offered early-retirement (a VERA) but not buyouts (a VSIP).

Earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission and the Smithsonian Institution offered buyouts and the Air Force’s Materiel Command is testing the waters to see if enough employees are interested. The U.S. Postal Service is offering buyouts ($20,000 in two annual installments) to 7,500 employees in administrative jobs, many in headquarters here.

In January, the Justice Department offered a limited number of buyouts to select employees in its Anti-Trust Division.

As agencies downsize and reinvent themselves, more will be offering buyouts. Probably including your agency. But they will be selective, in most cases, rather than agency-wide.

Editor’s Note: Since this column initially ran June 2, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Government Printing Office have asked the Office of Personnel Management for permission to offer buyouts to employees.

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