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OPM promises phased retirement to start this year

May. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
The Office of Personnel Management is working hard to finalize regulations for phased retirements.
The Office of Personnel Management is working hard to finalize regulations for phased retirements. (Sheila Vemmer/staff)

The Office of Personnel Management is pushing to issue a final set of regulations for phased retirement by the end of September, but for federal employees and advocacy groups it has already taken too long.

The agency is working hard on the final rule, according to an OPM spokeswoman.

Under OPM’s draft plan released in 2013, employees who are eligible for retirement and meet other requirements could work half-time while getting half of their pension. As they continue to work, phased retirees also will keep accruing additional service credit toward their final pensions.

While on the job, they will have to spend 20 percent of their time in “mentoring activities,” ideally with the employees who will take over for them when they leave for good.

For Gwendolyn Ross, phased retirement could not come soon enough. If she doesn’t hear of any progress in finalizing the rules and implementing it at the agency level by the end of the year, she said, she will fully retire.

Ross, a manager at the Coast Guard, said phased retirement would have given her the flexibility to continue working while taking care of medical issues and gradually transitioning out of the federal workforce.

She said the mentoring time would allow agencies across the government to capture the knowledge and information of long-serving federal employees instead of losing it all at once.

“The federal government is doing itself a disservice by not implementing phased retirement, because you are going to have a whole bunch of people leaving, and there are no plans to replace them or learn what they know,” Ross said.

Within her office, Ross said, perhaps half of the civilian employees are eligible to retire or will be soon. Phased retirement would be a win-win way for the agency to smoothly transition to a younger workforce and for federal workers to keep contributing to their final pension in uncertain financial times, she said.

Jessica Klement, the legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said the association receives frequent calls from federal employees inquiring about the status of a final rule.

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“There are people who say they are really excited about it, but they keep telling me [that] if it’s not done by a certain time [they are] going,” Klement said.

Congress approved the law for phased retirement on June 29, 2012, which means federal employees and agencies have been waiting almost two years for a rule. Klement said NARFE hopes the final rule contains greater details on phased retirement and encourages agencies to use it.

“We hope that the final regulations are stronger, but overall I think this can be an excellent tool for agencies particularly in this time of austerity and hiring freezes to retain top talent,” Klement said.

Carl Gerhold, a NASA researcher said phased retirement would allow him to continue working on two projects while training others to take over when he leaves the agency.

But if he doesn’t hear anything about phased retirement he will choose to fully retire within the next few months even though he would rather work part time to make sure everything is set to go without him.

“If I thought that it was going to happen by the end of this calendar year I would stay on. When I talk to people about the possibility of phased retirement they say that sounds great,” Gerhold said.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said the group is encouraging OPM to finalize its regulations on phased retirement so employees can start using it.

“As agencies continue to struggle with budget pressures and are not backfilling positions, agencies need flexibilities such as phased retirement to ensure a qualified workforce is in place to perform mission-critical duties,” Bonosaro said.

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