Climate change shrinks buyouts

Monday - 2/10/2014, 2:00am EST

Climate change has impacted everything from the hunting range and sex life of Artic polar bears to the (smaller) numbers of Mexican monarch butterflies.

It's getting hotter (except maybe this year), just about everywhere. To add insult to injury, it is mostly our fault!

Political climate change, nationally and especially in the Washington area, has had a major impact on one of the most popular perks Uncle Sam has to offer: Buyouts.

When first used in the 1990s (starting with Defense, then going governmentwide) tens of thousands of employees — mostly males with long service and veterans-preference protection — were lured into regular or early retirement with a maximum $25,000 payment. Before deductions. $25K in 1995 was worth a lot more than it is today.

The VSIPs, along with some RIFS (layoffs) and expanded contracting out, enabled the Clinton administration to reduce the federal payroll by almost 300,000. In the years since, buyouts have been used to thin the herd in dozens of agencies dozens of time.

The year 2009 was a banner one for federal employees. Congress passed, and the President signed, a number of improvements, some of which had been pending for years. But that was the last good year feds have had recently, and it is reflected in reduced retirement rates and in buyouts which may wind up on the federal endangered species list.

For the past several years, the political food fight in Congress — and between the House and the White House — last year gave the nation sequestration (i.e. your favorite National Park is closed), furloughs and then shutdowns. Oh, and a three-year federal pay freeze even as things like work- related health insurance premiums crept up year after year. The name of the game was for each political party to gain points (at the others' expense) while making life miserable for federal workers and exasperating for taxpayers.

Budgets have, for the first time, been approved and sequestration's squeeze has let up, somewhat. But for whatever reason, agencies seem to be slow on the draw in offering buyouts. A number are offering employees the chance to retire early (age 50 with 20 years, or any age with 25 years). But unlike the past when early retirements (VERAs) included buyouts, this year not so much. And statistics show that unless VERA's got a date, known as VSIP, she isn't going anywhere. Stand-alone VERAs have a very low (about 3 percent) take rate.

Social Security Administration is a good example. It's a large (60,000 employees), high-visibility agency A must-have operation. It has decided to offer early retirement. But some insiders predict that fewer than 300 people will take them, because they don't include a buyout.

When and if they happen in other agencies, VERA-VSIP offers are likely to be highly selective. Like the one just announced by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is generally limited to employees in the GS 13-15 range.

Unless there is some radical deviation from the current political- budget hot zone, the days of mass buyouts (or of higher value buyouts) seem to be gone.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The mascots for the Winter Olympics are a polar bear, a hare and a leopard. Compared to the twin giant cyclops who represented the 2012 London Olympics (names: Wenlock and Mandeville), the Sochi wildlife seem "surprisingly normal," per the Today Show


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