Buyout bait: Would you bite?

If you pick 100 people at random from your federal agency, odds are 34 of them could retire today, or six months ago. But they haven't. Senior Correspondent Mik...

If you picked a random group of 100 workers at any federal agency — from the CIA to the Forest Service  odds are that 34 of them could retire now. Or tomorrow. Or six months ago. But they are clinging to their jobs in droves.


They obviously didn’t listen to the experts reporting from their ivory towers.

Before the election, many pundits and pollsters said that in an alternate universe, assuming a long-shot-ain’t-gonna-happen-scenario — that IF, IF mind you — Donald J. Trump did win, two things would happen immediately.

First, the stock market would take a nosedive. Maybe crash. Wrong, wrong, wrong. At least so far.

Prediction number two was that the Trump Bump would send record-numbers of federal workers heading for the HR office to process their retirement papers. Why? Because, the pros said, civil servants would panic over what they thought the Trump administration would do to their jobs and agencies. Again, wrong, wrong, wrong. At least so far.

After the unthinkable happened last November, the Washington Post reported that some fearful/kind people were delivering what appeared to be homemade cupcakes to workers at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. EPA was seen as the center of the bullseye in the president’s plan to get rid of many government regulations, and the regulators who write and enforce regulations.

The stock market is up, big time. The federal retirement rate is down. Fewer people are choosing to retire, even though more people than ever have the age and service to pull the plug.

Official numbers from the Office of Personnel Management show that the retirement rate is at its lowest rate since December 2016. Last month, 23 percent fewer feds applied for retirement compared to May 2016. The number of retirees for April, March, February, January and December were also down from the previous year’s levels.

What’s wrong with this picture? In addition to getting the winner wrong, the experts didn’t factor in things that real people think about. In the case of federal workers, those things include the possibility (however remote) of a buyout. And the fear factor. EPA has announced that it will have a limited number of buyouts. The maximum payment will be $25,000 before deductions — taxes, social security, etc. — bringing the take-home amount down considerably. Other agencies may resort to buyouts, but maybe not on the scale some people predicted. The Pentagon has the authority to pay buyouts of up to $40,000 a year to selected civilian workers. Meantime, the military is paying bonuses, in some cases $30,000 to $90,000, to get valuable, high-skilled uniformed personnel NOT to retire.

The other factor may be fear. Fear that the economy will tank — we are long-overdue for a stock market correction of 20 percent or more — and that the number of private-sector jobs, good jobs, not retail or food services, may decline.

Administration plans to whittle back the two major federal retirement plans could also be a factor in people deciding to keep working. And therefore not retire.

The administration wants to eliminate cost-of-living adjustments for anyone retired or retiring under the FERS program. FERS workers would also be required to pay an additional 1 percent each year, for the next six years, to help fund their retirement. CSRS workers and retirees would get diet-COLAs (0.5 percent less than the actual rise in inflation) each year under the president’s budget plan.

So whatever the reasons, people aren’t doing what the experts said they should and would do.

Not for the first time either.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Jory Heckman

After 1,250 gallons of mayonnaise went bad at Michigan State University in December 2016, the school’s sustainability officer used an anaerobic digester to turn it into energy used to power farms on campus.

Source: Atlas Obscura

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