When is phased retirement coming to your agency?

Julie Perkins, attorney and partner, Shaw Bransford and Roth

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“Are we there yet? What’s taking so long?”

Those are no longer just the words from the kids in the backseat on a long road trip. Many federal employees are eagerly — and some impatiently — awaiting implementation of phased retirement at their agencies.

Feds saw a glimmer of hope when the Office of Personnel Management released the final rule on phased retirement last August. Eligible employees could begin to submit applications on Nov. 6, 2014, if their agencies had the program in place.

But the waiting game continues for agencies to implement their own guidance and put phased retirement into practice.

Julie Perkins, an attorney and partner with Shaw Bransford and Roth, said the Homeland Security Department and Social Security Administration have already told employees they’ll have to wait a while for guidance. If the agencies offer phased retirement at all, it will be no earlier than this November.

An OPM spokesman told Federal News Radio it hasn’t received any applications for phased retirement so far, and it has no reports on agencies implementing the program.

Many parts of OPM’s 32-page final rule are broad, leaving agencies with a lot of decisions to make in forming their own guidance. Perkins said those details could be the reason the employees are still waiting for their agencies to offer phased retirement.

“It’s just so wide open,” she told Senior Correspondent Mike Causey on Your Turn. “OPM acknowledged that you could go in so many different directions with this that agencies may be kind of frozen — there’s too many choices.”

Under OPM’s rule, phased retirees work half of their full-time schedule, while drawing on half of their earned retirement benefits. They must also spend at least 20 percent of their time mentoring coworkers.

Other than that, phased retirement is largely based on an agreement between the agency and employee. The two parties decide how a schedule is converted to part time, whether it’s a half day five days a week, Monday and Friday off, or another combination.

Agencies must also determine how long an employee can remain in phased retirement. OPM gave neither a minimum nor maximum duration in the final rule.

“OPM gave agencies such broad discretion on what it means to be a mentor,” Perkins said. “Agencies are stuck, because the last thing you want to do is have this backfire on you and have people complain about unfair treatment.”

Although managing a phased retirement program presents its fair share of challenges, Perkins wrote in the Federal Manager magazine that it also is beneficial to agencies at a time when a “tsunami” of retirees is expected to leave the federal workforce.

“This program has great potential for managers such as yourselves to both ease into retirement and to worry less about continuity and knowledge transfer among your subordinates,” she wrote.


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