Phased retirement & Occam’s razor

Long before I ever heard of Occam’s razor, a very wise been-there-done-that editor (Bill Brady) at The Washington Post gave me a tip.

He was a World War II Navy vet. Graduate of Notre Dame (on the GI bill). Good family man. Great editor. Super mentor for a bunch of street kids trying to be reporters.

Serving in extended combat in the Pacific, bank robberies, 8-alarm fires, riots, etc. were all in a day’s work to him. Once, after consulting him about the difficulty of sorting facts from fiction, he said “Ace, the simplest answer is usually the right answer!”

Good advice. And I mention this because in a column last Thursday, I poked fun at the government’s phased retirement program. After 6 years on the books only about 200 of the government’s 2.6 million workers have taken advantage of it. Another 200 are — or were at some point — in the pipeline.

That’s not very many for a program backers said would solve any government brain drain problem. The idea was to let selected retirement eligible workers go part-time, two, three or four days a week, for an indefinite period.

During their phased retirement they would spend 50 percent of their time training younger employees. A win-win situation — so people were told.

In speculating about why the program has been so underwhelming I forgot the simplest answer: Agencies didn’t want to offer it to employees for a variety of reasons.

There were almost no takers because there were almost no offers.

This is what we heard from some folks who would have loved phased retirement but are still working full time:

” Most of my federal agency resembles a senior center. We joke that the average age is deceased. We are technical in nature. Lots of talent and skills. We are the perfect candidate for phased-retirement because at some point a large chunk of our workforce will be gone, one way or another. I would love to work part time, with Monday and Fridays off, to train people to back-fill my job. I think I would be good at it and that it would save the taxpayers money in time and training. The hitch is this: Nobody to my knowledge … has ever been offered the opportunity to take phased retirement. I’ve asked and been told we (the agency) aren’t doing it. One supervisor said the top brass didn’t want the hassle of selecting and rejecting people for the program. Please don’t mention my agency. Lightening may still strike.”

— Frozen in Maryland.

”Mike,  I do not know about other agencies, but I can tell you why a large amount of … the people here … are not participating. We were told the FBI does not participate due to ‘operational need’ and therefore we could not participate, so don’t even apply. And this is basically because nothing happens at the FBI if it does not benefit the agents and since they could not do phased retirement, no one can. So I can believe that other agencies’ management has the same attitude and that is why it is not more in use. You cannot enroll in something that is not available to you. If I had been able to do it, I may have quite a while ago. Not phased out … just go!”

— Soon To Be Gone

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Steff Thomas

The parachute, originally imagined and sketched by Leonardo Da Vinci, was invented in 1783 by Sebastien Lenormand. That is 120 years before the Wright Brothers invented the first successful airplane.

Source: Wikipedia