Phased retirement: Career break for younger feds?

For the past three years, anxious aging-in-place feds have watched the Phased Retirement program for signs of actual life. Suddenly it’s gone from frozen solid to drip, drip, drip status, and some long-time feds are feeling as frisky and rejuvenated as they felt when they were brand new GS 5s and 7s.

There is light at the end of the tunnel to retirement!

When fully up and running, the PR program will be the perfect...

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For the past three years, anxious aging-in-place feds have watched the Phased Retirement program for signs of actual life. Suddenly it’s gone from frozen solid to drip, drip, drip status, and some long-time feds are feeling as frisky and rejuvenated as they felt when they were brand new GS 5s and 7s.

There is light at the end of the tunnel to retirement!

When fully up and running, the PR program will be the perfect way out for veteran civil servants. But for the much larger population of young-to-mid-career feds, PR is a remote perk. It’s of as much interest to them as ads for walk-in bath tubs or battery powered recliner chairs. Maybe someday, but not for a long, long time.

But there is another side to the PR program, this one for people who are decades from even considering retirement: Who moves up when Al or Jenny move on?

If both big and small agencies embrace the PR program, it could be a jump-starter for both new and mid-career employees who are currently in limbo and folks who have become plaque in the government’s hardening of the arteries promotion pipeline.

Thanks to budget cuts and sequestration, Uncle Sam’s infusion of young blood has been down — in many agencies dramatically. For years relatively high turnover among the relatively low numbers of new hires has also kept the government’s average age steady, with a gradual shift to the upper 40s. Several years ago a long-time OPM employee said “when we spot a young person walking past the office we call ahead so our friends can see them too.” It was the equivalent of spotting a rare species, like a white tiger or a red panda.

The Great Retirement Tsunami, first predicted in 1999, has yet to be sighted, much less hit the government. More often than not long-range retirement estimates fall short. That’s partly because of the recession (government retirements drop when private sector job opening shrink) and partly because of a 3-year pay freeze followed by two years of 1 percent annual increases. Workers hoping to boost their annuities by increasing their last 3-years salary average have been largely stymied.

Back in the day buyouts created openings for younger federal workers. When they were first offered, 30-something feds paid little attention. Then when they realized the impact of buyouts on older, higher-grade workers, everybody started tracking them. More than 150,000 employees got the $25,000 per year buyouts, and another 100,000 left as the Clinton administration reconfigured (and cut) federal staffing levels. The buyouts opened up what otherwise would have been few promotion slots for many people.

Agencies are again under budget constraints and there is always sequestration lurking in the shadows and the possibility of a shutdown. But if the PR program works as pro-fed members of Congress intended it, it could be good for older employees, the people they will mentor who replace them and who knows, maybe even the long-suffering taxpayers for whom just about everything the government does is a mystery.

 

Nearly useless factoid

By Meredith Somers

Though they are similar to both raccoon and bears, red pandas are the only member of the family Ailuridae.

Source: Smithsonian National Zoo

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