Everybody’s got a price. What’s yours?

At least 15 federal agencies (or parts of them) are offering employees the option to take a buyout and, in some cases, early retirement. That number could easily double over the next several weeks as government offices decide, or are ordered, to downsize. In addition to new departments and agencies joining the buyout parade some operations — like Defense — are expected to expand them to cover more people.

One big difference between current and upcoming buyouts vs. those of the 1990s is speed. Back then workers often had many weeks to make a decision and months before they had to be off the payroll. Things have changed. Now many places offering buyouts (VSIPs) or early retirement (VERAs) want you to make up your mind quickly, and turn in your ID badge ASAP. Mainly, that’s to save money. The fiscal year started Oct. 1, so the quicker you are off the payroll the more your agency will save.

The maximum buyout payment is $25,000 everywhere but the U.S. Postal Service, which is offering $20,000. And we all know that everybody, as they say (whoever they are), has a price. So what’s yours?

Are federal workers cheap dates? Or fed up or worn out? Ready to roll? That is, can they be persuaded to do something drastic — like leave their jobs — for a relatively small amount of money? Short answer:


We’ll see.

When the government first offered buyouts during the mid-1990s they were set at a maximum of $25,000. That was before deductions. The amount that workers actually took home depended on tax brackets. For many it ranged from $16,000 to $18,000. Today it takes about $1.50 to buy something that, in the mid-90s, you could get for $1.00.

Currently buyouts are available at Agriculture, Air Force, ATF, U.S. Courts, Education, FTC, GAO, GPO, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Library of Congress, the USPS, SBA, Smithsonian and the TSA. Buyout offers may be extended to more employees at some of the larger agencies, and agencies not currently offering them may do so sooner rather than later.

Two of the biggest federal operations — the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration — haven’t tipped their hands on the buyout/early-out issue. Some members of Congress even want to cut the IRS to help save money(?) Others think SSA is too big even though thousands of baby boomers come due for benefits every day and demand for services is growing.

It is very likely that if more agencies offer buyouts, more people will take them. Example:

  • “I would not hesitate to take a buy out I have only three more years I am planning on working due to financial responsibilities but the buy out would cover that and I would be gone.” B at the IRS
  • “If the IRS offers buyouts I have a suggestion. Tell people not to park their cars anywhere near an IRS office unless they want to risk it being flattened by the surge of people bailing out.” Ron in the Sunny South
  • “I can tell you first hand that if the Social Security Administration has a buyout program they will be swamped with takers. Including yours truly.” Woodlawn Dweller
  • “Have you heard anything about the US DEPT OF STATE offering a buyout. That is all it would take for me and some of my work partners to retire. Thanks” Pat at the State Department

Buyout Guide: For the latest information on who’s doing buyouts, click here.


By Jack Moore

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Buyout money can help – and hurt – your wallet
Agencies are offering up to $25,000, but the amount some federal employees take home after taxes could be several thousand dollars less. And career experts warn employees considering buyouts to move cautiously.

Buyout Guide
The Small Business Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are the latest to join the list of agencies offering buyouts and early retirements.

Special coverage from ELC 2011
Check out interviews and panel coverage from the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.