- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Lots of people dream about early retirement. But for federal and postal workers in the right agency, geographic location or job, it is often a reality.
And while Uncle Sam imposes a slight pension penalty on early retirees (a 2 percent reduction for each year the retiree is under age 55), it's nothing like the hit (typically a 5 percent reduction for each year under age 65) imposed by many private companies.
Younger workers also have a big stake in early outs. Although they can't take them, the fact that older employees can and do means the younger feds are less likely to get laid off, and more likely to get promotions.
For a fed to be eligible for early retirement, a couple of things must happen: First, the agency must offer it (after making its case to the Office of Personnel Management), and secondly, the individual must either have 25 years of federal service (military time counts, too), or be at least age 50 with at least 20 years of service.
In government lingo, early retirement is called a VERA. That stands for voluntary early retirement authority. VERAs all have end dates. For 2003, they range from the March 31 deadline for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) for most others.
VERAs also can be agencywide, such as those offered this year by the CIA, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or the Internal Revenue Service.
Most of the time agencies get permission to offer early outs because of "reorganizations" or, as more and more are saying, "reshaping." Bottom line: They want certain people to head for the hills so they can consolidate or eliminate their jobs, or replace them with different types.
For specifics (as in, are you eligible?), check with your human resources office. Here are agencies where some or all components will be offering early retirement in 2003:
Interior's Minerals Management operations, FERC, General Services Administration, Agriculture (Mississippi and West Virginia), Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Defense, FDIC, Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, CIA, portions of the Treasury and the Energy departments, parts of the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Postal Service (in part), Transportation's Office of the Inspector General, and the D.C. government (employees under the old Civil Service Retirement System only).
A couple of things to remember, if you are interested in early outs (or want to alert old-timers to the possibility of an early out).
Your HR office should, but may not, know that the agency has a VERA.
Even if your department or agency has VERA authority, it doesn't have to make you an offer, and/or the VERA may be limited to a specific geographic area, to a specific component of an agency or even by General Schedule grade level. For example, the VERA offered by the Department of Energy's Office of Chief Information Officer is limited to grade 11 and above employees.
VERAs do not automatically include a buyout. Lots more agencies are offering early retirement than are offering buyouts.
Buyout amounts haven't changed (except in the FDIC). The maximum feds can get is $25,000 before deductions.
Super VERA buyout
If you have a computer, chances are you've gotten an e-mail or a copy of a "news story" outlining a super 2003 buyout/early out plan.
The story is that Uncle Sam wants to get rid of everybody under the old CSRS retirement system by giving them big-bucks buyouts (a year's salary, a flat $65,000, whatever) and enhancing their retirement by adding five years to their age and their years of service.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the reason is it is not true. It's a fake that's been around for years. It has been updated for inflation (at one time the reported offer was $5,000) and to suit the political times, and to play on the paranoia of older feds (who think nobody wants them) and younger feds, who long for early retirement.
The fact is that there is no bill pending (or secret law passed and ready to spring in 2003) that would give CSRS feds a superbonus, and enhanced retirement.

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