Education sees buyouts as way to modernize workforce

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

wfedstaff |

By Emily Kopp
Federal News Radio

The Education Department is asking the Office of Personnel Management to let it offer early retirement and buyout packages to about 350 people, or 10 percent of its workforce. Chief Human Capital Officer Robert Buggs said neither political nor economic factors played a role in the decision.

“The intent here is to recalibrate,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “We’re not talking about folks leaving the roles and our being unable to fill behind them. For the most part, we intend to fill behind them.”

Buggs said a two-year study of workforce needs led his team to conclude that the department needed people with different skills to meet its goals. In many cases, senior staff could be replaced by less expensive workers.

“A very crude example would be if yesterday I needed a financial analyst but today I need a contract specialist,” Buggs said. “The incumbent in the financial analyst position is a high grade. I realize that, given my organizational priorities, a contract specialist would be better suited for my organization. If I can hire them at lower grade level, then that makes good business sense.”

Buggs said only 60 of 180 eligible workers accepted packages during the first round of buyouts earlier this year. The employees were given just a few weeks to decide.

Buggs said this round should be larger and it’s the last one planned.

Employees received notice Monday that the agency had sought OPM approval for the buyouts through an email sent jointly by Buggs and Claudette Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents Education staff.

“We wanted to get ahead of [OPM’s decision] so that employees would have enough time to think about whether this was a good fit for them or not,” said Young in an interview with Federal News Radio.

Young said OPM’s decision could come any day. The buyouts would apply to staff at 12 offices, with the largest number coming from:

  • The Offices of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services
  • Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • The Institute of Education Services

Buggs said the agency will offer incentive packages first to people eligible to retire, then to those eligible for early retirement, before others. It also plans to prioritize based on positions.

“We may say all financial analysts, first-come, first-serve, may have a buyout, and if we don’t exhaust that employee occupation, then we may go to another occupation,” he said.

Employees could accept the buyouts as early as September, and leave anytime between October and January 3. They would receive their annuity and up to $25,000 dollars before taxes.

Young said employees are responding more positively than she expected.

“Employees have not come to me and said ‘I fear for my job because they’re looking at my area,'” she said. “The union hasn’t experienced any morale issues associated with the buyout.”

Education is one of at least four agencies that recently sought OPM’s consent to offer early retirement and buyout packages. The others are the Smithsonian, the Government Printing Office, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the departments of Agriculture and Defense. Other agencies have limited or frozen hiring in anticipation of smaller budgets.


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