3 reasons why phased retirement is a dud

They rise a few feet, then sink back down and explode. Or they clear the launch pad but go wildly off course before blowing up. In one instance, after countdown, nothing happens except a slightly comical “poof”. Nov. 21, 1960 to be precise, a day living in NASA infamy. YouTube is replete with video compilations of heartbreaking rocket launch failures.

For the Office of Personnel Management, phased retirement is a dud, like the Mercury-Redstone 1 launch failure. Two years after it finalized the rules for phased retirement, as of this week, a grand total of 90 people have applied. More than 10,000 people apply for regular retirement every month.

A year from now, nearly a million feds will be eligible to retire. It doesn’t look like too many of them will choose the phased option.

Phased has been assembled as slowly and painstakingly as a rocket. It took two years for OPM to put together the rules after Congress authorized the program. Maybe Edsel is a better analogy. Long in the making, highly touted, yet when it rolled out nobody bit.

But why?

Will the upcoming presidential transition impact your decision to retire? Take our online survey.

Maybe it’s because of the mentoring requirement. That rule says the phased retiree has to spend 20 percent of his or her time at work mentoring people who will be at the agency for a while. Katherine Archuleta, the OPM director when the rules came out, touted phased retirement as a way for managers to spread knowledge and mentoring. But not as a way for people who’ve been working for 35 or 40 years to avoid a cold-turkey plunge into retirement.

When you think about it, shouldn’t all the mentoring and knowledge-leaving have taken place all along?

Maybe the slow uptake is because the rules leave it to each agency to establish the details of their own phased retirement programs. Some are more on the ball than others. As Nicole Ogrysko reports, Social Security hasn’t offered phased retirement at all. The Defense Department didn’t get around to its program until last month.

Efforts that are strung out too long can collapse under their own inertia. Try doing a somersault in slow motion.

Then again, given how arcane and detailed the rules are, people feel, what the heck, I’ll just skip it. Check out the Federal Register — would you want to read through all that legalese just to get to this:

“Work half time for six months and get half your pay, half your annuity. Then go in peace.”