Buyouts: What’s in it for you?

Roughly one in three federal workers is eligible to retire today, but many are waiting for their agencies to offer buyouts, says Senior Correspondent Mike Cause...

One in three federal workers is either very close to being retirement eligible, already is retirement-eligible or is settling in for an even longer haul: To perhaps become the most senior person in the office. Maybe the entire agency.

Many retirement-eligible feds have buyouts on the brain. For good reason. For them, the question is why retire now when, maybe, they have a shot at a $25,000 buyout as a parting gift? Retirement-eligible Defense civilians who want to leave have even more reason to wait a little longer. Congress is prepared to extend for two years the authority for DoD to pay buyouts (voluntary separation payments) to help the Defense Department reshape its operations and manpower package. There is also a fourth group, younger feds who are too busy trying to keep a job and move up the ladder to even give buyouts a thought. Even though they should.

The second group of feds who are watching the buyout situation is workers hired in the last few years. Many of them are not military veterans and, under the government’s last-hired-first-fired rules, they would most likely go out the door if buyouts don’t work and agencies are forced to make reductions-in-force. During RIFs, which can be both messy and more expensive than buyouts, senior employees and those with veterans preference (or both) targeted for a RIF can bump less senior, younger non-vets out of their jobs. People who have been through a RIF (the last big one was during the Clinton administration) say they can be messy, time-consuming and often not produce the results hoped for in the downsized operation.

Many people who aren’t eligible for buyouts are also rooting for them. Some have been stalled in the same job and grade level because there is no room at the top. A surge of buyouts in a relatively small agency could unclog the promotion pipeline.

The White House budget calls for cuts — some major, some not so much — in most federal operations. But while that includes most of Uncle Sam’s operations (including the Internal Revenue Service, which is the nation’s chief revenue collector) some of the biggest operations — Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, have most of the workforce — will either be exempt, slightly singed or actually grow in size.

The Environmental Protection Agency has become the poster child for downsizing. The proposed budget/reorganizing plan calls for a 31 percent cut, which could hit as many as 4,000 workers. During the Obama administration, the EPA spent $16 million on shedding employees during a buyout-early retirement exercise. The agency said that was $11.3 million in actual buyout payments and another $4.9 million paid to employees for unused annual leave.

What next, and when? The best predictor of buyouts — who will offer them, how many and for how long — is past performance.

In 2014, buyouts and VERAs (early retirement) offers were given to selected workers at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, the Naval Sea Systems Command and the U.S. Geological Survey. Most were announced early (in February) with the offers expiring Sept. 30. Navy’s buyouts were offered in waves, based on when workers became retirement eligible, and by skill sets it wanted to get and those it needed to shed. For a look back at the last round, click here.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was first paid to be a writer at age 14. That’s when comedian George Burns hired him to write for the Burns and Allen Show on radio.

Source: Wikipedia

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