Phased retirement: The real reason it fizzled

What if we had a national election and only a few thousand people voted? And then …

What if you then wrote a fiery editorial denouncing politicians and pundits who said the American public loves democracy and who predicted that there would be a massive turnout? And then …

You find out the reason almost nobody voted was because most of the polls were closed on Election Day.

Ooops! My mistake. Our mistake.

So is the reason the highly-touted four-years–in-the-making phased retirement program has been such a flop. Why only about 90 federal workers — out of a population 2.6 million — have signed up to work part-time and help mentor and train their successors? According to lots of feds, that is exactly what happened. The program isn’t a flop, they say. Their agencies are. They say that after all the happy talk about the pros of PR, only a few agencies actually offered it. Others either pretended it didn’t exist, said it was great but just not for them, and/or put out press releases praising the program even as they ignored it.

Here, from readers, is another explanation as to why so few feds signed up for the program — mainly because they couldn’t and still can’t.

Yesterday’s column about the poor turnout for the program was intended to poke fun at the “experts”(including media savants like me) who predicted it would be a huge hit. Then we got the numbers. OPM said government-wide only about 90 have signed up for PR. So we concluded the “experts” (including us) had missed the boat again. But maybe there is another reason for the low turnout. The fact that most agencies haven’t — maybe never will — given employees the option:

I read your article on phased retirement and found it interesting that neither you nor those who wrote the article in Government Executive make any mention of how few agencies have actually implemented the phased retirement program. Perhaps more people would have signed up for the program if more agencies had implemented it. Or perhaps if the program had been implemented in a timely fashion more people would have joined it.

I retired in 2013, after giving up that it would get started anytime soon in my agency (a part of DHS), although I likely would have been a good candidate as I had mentored and trained a number of people throughout my career. However, when the personnel people clearly had no interest in making it happen, it did not make sense for me to wait around for them to get moving on it.

Unfortunately for the government, I left as a “young retiree” with over 30 years of government service because of poor management of human capital and poor management in the agency. I have several colleagues who have done the same — all of us shaking our heads as we walk out the door and now we see our agency making the same mistakes they were making 10 or 20 years ago because they do not have anyone guiding them to do things differently or have the wisdom that certain things do not work no matter who tries them or when they are tried.

Phased retirement was a good idea and although the retirement tsunami did not happen, I think some of the pundits and academics do not really understand the issues behind either not happening in the predicted way.

Phased retirement would be more successful if more agencies implemented it and implemented it in a more “across the board” way. I have not looked at all of the implementing guidelines in each of the agencies but have heard that it is very limited and very restrictive —so maybe the question should be how many people fit the criteria to take phased retirement in the agencies where it has been implemented and how many chose to just retire and how many people have stayed even though they were eligible — not how many people have done it.

Will the upcoming presidential transition impact your decision to retire? Take our online survey.

The retirement tsunami did not happen because of many factors, chiefly the economy and the falsehood that most people will retire when they are eligible. Because many eligible retirees are relatively young, they do not retire on date of eligibility either because they have young families or because they still feel young enough to go to work or because they are not in the economic situation to retire.

The workforce is older than it has ever been and while there was never a tsunami, the federal government is getting grayer by the day and that is a problem and will continue to be so. Had phased retirement kicked in in a timely fashion I think more people would have considered it and allowed for new blood to come in which would have allowed the federal government to mix experience with innovation. Innovation without experience is a disaster as is experience without innovation.

Perhaps instead of the pundits criticizing the phased retirement program they should be asking what OPM is doing to encourage more agencies to implement it and they should wonder how many retirees abandoned their careers when they did not see it as a possibility. I wonder how many of those people are now selling their knowledge back to the government as consultants when they could have been doing it as experienced government workers.

Mr. Causey I am disappointed in this column as it seems a little too flippant for you and lacks the thought and care most of your columns generally display. — Ann Simeone

Just like SSA, the IRS would not allow it even if people applied. Management here loves a micromanaged, boot on the neck type of making sure they know where you are for every hour you are on the books. Telework has been allowed for years. At the IRS, it is only allowed for higher graded employees, 11, 12, 13 and higher. There are plenty of lower graded jobs that would apply to telework, but the management style mentioned above wouldn’t allow for that. — Signed, Under the Bus

”Uh, Mike, maybe more people would use IT IF IT WAS ACTUALLY OFFERED. The Centers for Disease Control doesn’t offer it and I personally know several people who are trying to hold off retirement until it IS offered. If CDC doesn’t offer it, I suspect there are other agencies that don’t offer it either. Cheers. —  Sara

’Social Security Administration decided to opt out of phased retirement. I think if this agency had rolled out the program to its employees, there would have been lots of takers. — Goodbye Columbus (Ohio)

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Peter Sellers was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite actors. He would always take some of Sellers’ “Pink Panther” films with him on the airplane when he toured.

Source: IMDB

More Commentary