Huge Wave of Retiring Federal Workers is Double-Edged Sword for U.S. Agencies
With budget cuts eating away at federal programs and morale waning, many of the federal government’s older employees are opting for retirement. This development could prove to be a blessing and a curse for Washington.
First the numbers: The number of executive branch employees going into retirement this fiscal year is expected to be nearly twice the total who retired four years ago.
Large numbers of retirements are expected to continue through 2016, according to the Government Accountability Office, which reported that about 30% of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire in the next three years.
At some agencies the retirements could result in significant amounts of turnover. By 2016, half of all air traffic controllers and 42% of the Department of Housing and Urban Development workforce will be eligible to retire, while 44% of those working at the Small Business Administration will be in the same position.
By the end of this fiscal year, executive branch retirements are expected to exceed 80,000 (about 5% of the workforce), making it the largest exodus in at least 20 years.
The expectation is that many of those eligible to retire will do so, according to Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.
“With retirement accounts on the rebound, many veteran workers are finding little reason to remain in government, especially at a time when agency budgets are being slashed, workers are being furloughed and morale is tumbling,” Rein wrote.
On the one hand, lots of retirements could be a good thing for the government. It would reduce the size of the federal payroll, which would be a welcome cost-saver. And with older workers stepping down, agencies could hire younger replacements with key skills, like cybersecurity and information technology.
However, in some cases, replacing retirees who have specialized skills may not be easy to do. These people would include nuclear physicists at the Department of Energy and experienced air traffic controllers who have spent decades carefully guiding aircraft across American airspace.
Eighteen months ago, Congress approved a “phased retirement” policy designed to encourage veteran employees to stick with their jobs. The plan allows retirees to work half-time while receiving a partial annuity, in return for which they agree to train potential employees who would eventually replace them. The policy has not gone into effect yet because the rules still have to be approved.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Wave of Retirements Hitting Federal Workforce (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)
Wave of Federal Retirees to Hit Government (by Jennifer Liberto, CNN)
Retired Federal Workers Receiving 6-Figure Pensions Now Top 21,000 (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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