SSA continues to transform workforce by offering early retirement

For at least the third time in the last seven years, the Social Security Administration is trying to reduce the average age, if not the size, of its workforce.

SSA sent out a note to all employees April 2 saying it would be offering Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) to all employees except for administrative law judges.

“By May 31, 2019, all eligible employees who wish to retire must advise their immediate supervisors of their intent to separate through the early out program and contact their servicing personnel office (SPO) to initiate their retirement processing.  All eligible employees who wish to retire must separate by Aug. 2, 2019,” SSA states in an email to employees, which Federal News Network obtained.

Employees must have at least 20 years of federal service and be at least 50-years old, or have at least 25 years of federal service regardless of age.

“Employees must be serving under a non-time-limited appointment and have been continuously on SSA’s rolls since Nov. 18, 2018,” the email states. “In addition, employees under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) must have served in a CSRS position for at least one year out of the two years immediately before retirement. This last requirement does not apply to employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).”

SSA currently has almost 60,000 employees, which is down from more than 69,000 employees in 2011.

“SSA has used this method for many years and based on past offers, we expect approximately 200 employees to take the early retirement offer,”  a SSA spokeswoman said.

Ralph de Juliis, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 220, which represents SSA employees, said the agency hasn’t shared how many employees have taken early retirement in the past. But the union is concerned about the pressure to continue to shrink the size of the workforce in exchange for better technology.

“Our sense is everyone is feeling the workload stress. I’m in Tulsa Oklahoma and we have 20 empty cubicles. We have room for about 75 people, but only have 53 so we are down one-third and we aren’t moving that fast or that quickly to use technology to make up for fewer employees,” he said. “I work in the Supplemental Security Income division and we need to see people who need SSI, and that has to be done in person for the most part.”

de Julius said AFGE also is worried about the impact of early retirements on SSA’s field offices, Office of Hearing Operations and its teleservice centers. He said those offices will feel the brunt of people leaving and not being replaced quickly as they serve citizens on a daily basis.

SSA offered early retirements in 2012, 2014 and 2017. In the past anywhere from three-to-four percent of those eligible took the early retirement offer.

A May 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office found about 30 percent of SSA’s workforce is eligible to retire, which is below the governmentwide average of 34.3 percent. SSA was one of eight agencies out of 24 agencies that fell below the governmentwide average.

The Office Personnel Management reports that more employees retired from SSA, 24,579, than any other large, non-cabinet level, agency between 2008 and 2017.

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