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Senate approves ‘phased retirements' for feds

Mar. 8, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Phased retirements took a step closer to becoming reality today. The Senate voted 82-16 to approve a measure that would allow federal employees to work part-time while retiring part-time. The amendment was attached to the surface transportation bill, S 1813.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., would use the estimated $465 million saved by allowing semi-retirements to pay for public roads, schools and forest-related economic development projects in rural areas.

If this bill becomes law and phased retirements are enacted, it would represent a victory for the Obama administration, which proposed the idea last month as part of its fiscal 2013 budget proposal. The White House wants to allow the roughly 500,000 feds who are eligible for retirement to work part-time during the end of their career, while receiving a reduced pension and continuing to accrue future retirement benefits.

However, the American Federation of Government Employees objected to using phased retirement savings to pay for spending priorities unrelated to federal workers. If phased retirements are enacted as part of this transportation package, AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman said, federal employee groups have less leverage to argue against further cuts to pay and benefits.

"That money [saved through phased retirements] could have provided a safeguard against cutting pensions for federal employees," Kauffman said. "We know more is coming down the pike. They could have used that instead of increasing retirement contributions, or going to the high-5 [a reduced system for setting federal pensions] or cutting the [Federal Employees Retirement System Social Security] supplement. Now that the Senate has voted for this, there's no leverage to say, ‘Why don't we do this versus that.' "

Baucus' phased retirement amendment, like the White House's proposal, bars law enforcement officers, firefighters, air traffic controllers, or nuclear materials couriers who face a mandatory retirement age from taking a phased retirement. It also requires phased retirees to spend at least 20 percent of their work hours mentoring younger employees.

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