- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

For many longtime federal workers, the pot of gold at the end of the bureaucratic rainbow is a VSIP.

The Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment means “buyout.” It’s when Uncle Sam agrees to pay civil servants $25,000, before deductions, to take regular or early retirement.

During the 1990s, more than 100,000 workers — mostly retirement-age men in the Defense Department — took VSIPs. After federal and state taxes and deductions, these payments were worth $16,000 to $18,000.

Reasons to offer buyouts have expanded, but the number has declined. When first offered, they were limited to Defense agencies and could be used only if the agency was undergoing a reorganization that otherwise could lead to layoffs.

Buyouts now can be offered in cases of downsizing, reorganizing, restructuring or outsourcing. At one time, they tended to be agency- or departmentwide. Now they often are targeted to specific bureaus, grade levels and occupations or geographic regions.

Because buyouts are so specialized and often limited, it is hard to track them. Just how narrow and specific are they? Consider this: The Agriculture Department, a giant agency, is offering buyouts to human resources people in its Forest Service through the end of this year. That is specific and limited.

The Energy Department is offering buyouts through Sept. 30 to environment, safety and health components in the District and Germantown. Energy does have an ongoing agencywide buyout, but it’s only for the Fossil Energy component. A buyout for Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence ends this month.

No matter how narrow the buyouts, hope springs eternal for feds who track them. Given the fact that most agencies are operating with the same funds they had last year, there is always a chance that the buyouts will be expanded. Here is a list of agencies and departments that are offering some people, in some components and some parts of the country, the chance to take a buyout:

Agriculture Department, Interior Department, Energy Department, Treasury Department, Health and Human Services Department, Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration, Veterans Affairs Department, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency and Internal Revenue Service. Bear in mind that only portions of each of those agencies are offering buyouts. The list probably will grow over the next couple of months, but don’t look for any agencywide buyouts during this fiscal year.

Health and taxes

Sens. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, are co-sponsoring a bill that would save taxes for millions of retired federal and military personnel. The measure would extend the so-called premium conversion perk, now limited to active-duty personnel, to folks who have or will be retiring. The benefit lets feds pay their share of health care premiums with pretax dollars. It would save most retirees $250 to $800 a year in taxes.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, has introduced a similar bill in the House. It has the backing of Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. In the House, 250 of the 436 members have co-sponsored the proposal. But despite the popularity with retirees, and with feds who will someday retire, the odds that either bill will get out of the tax-writing committees are slim at best.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey @federalnewsradio.com.

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