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White House warns agencies to prepare for wave of retirements

Feb. 15, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Employees enter the Department of Agriculture on their morning commute in Washington, D.C. The White House's proposed 2012 budget warned agencies to get ready for a new wave of retirements.
Employees enter the Department of Agriculture on their morning commute in Washington, D.C. The White House's proposed 2012 budget warned agencies to get ready for a new wave of retirements. (Army Times)

Agencies must get ready for a renewed wave of retirements, the White House says in its proposed 2012 budget.

An aging federal work force, combined with a recovering economy, could push retirements and other separations to more than 300,000 in 2011, the budget said. Between 2005 and 2008, the number of separations each year ranged from 244,000 to 252,000. But the recession slowed older employees' retirements and encouraged others to hold on to their jobs longer. In 2009, separations fell to 212,000.

The White House said that if the reduced retirement pattern holds, the government will likely see 230,000 separations in 2011. But if separation rates return to 2007 levels, more than 300,000 employees could retire or separate this year.

Twenty-five percent of federal workers were at the retirement-eligible age of at least 55 years old in 2010, compared with 15 percent in 1998.

The White House said agencies must start collecting soon-to-retire employees' important institutional knowledge, transferring those skills to younger workers, and hiring and developing the next generation of employees.

The budget said the administration will continue improving and speeding up the government's hiring process by simplifying job descriptions, allowing applicants to submit only resumes at first instead of answering lengthy essay questions, and requiring managers to play a greater role in hiring.

The budget also said agencies have to do a better job holding poorly performing employees accountable when they cannot or will not improve. But it does not propose specific performance management changes or innovations.

The White House also did not propose any civil service reforms, cuts to health or retirement benefits, or further extensions of the two-year pay-scale freeze in effect for 2011 and 2012.

John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said he sees this year's budget as "staying the course" on the administration's work-force initiatives.

"The mood is simply wrong" to tackle bigger issues such as reforming how federal employees are paid, he said.

With some leading Republicans saying federal employees are overpaid and with federal unions' raising concern that overhauling the General Schedule would mean salary cuts, there is little room to reach a consensus. Palguta doesn't expect progress on civil service reform until after the 2012 election.

"The time is not right for anything more aggressive," Palguta said. "Eventually we're going to have to get to rethinking how we do pay and benefits, but not in this environment."

John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he was pleased to see feds' benefits were spared.

"Any reduction in these benefits would have severe consequences for federal employees, who already have been subjected to a two-year pay freeze," Gage said in a Feb. 14 statement. "However, we are well aware that some lawmakers are pushing for more draconian cuts. We urge President Obama to hold firm against any cuts that would diminish services to the American public."

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