Jumpstarting a brain drain

Wednesday - 10/19/2011, 2:00am EDT

Since the late 1990s, public service groups and high government officials have warned of an imminent brain drain. A retirement "tsunami" that will sweep away some of the best, brightest and most experienced talent in government. So far, no tidal wave. In fact in recent years — maybe because of the economy — the retirement rate has been normal or slightly less than normal.

But that could change overnight. Or at least within the next couple of months. The government could be slammed with a big wave of retirements in December and January. If that happens, among other things, the wait time before new retirees get their first full annuity check could be even longer than it is now.

There is nothing scientific or statistical to back this up, just personal experience. All of a sudden, people I have known for years, people who I hoped would stick around forever, are pulling the plug. And while nobody is irreplaceable, Uncle Sam will be hard-pressed to get people of their caliber — especially if all he can promise them is that they won't get a raise for another couple of years. Maybe more. Or if they come into a government pension plan without a pension component.

Yesterday's column talked about changes (as in cuts) the bipartisan congressional super committee may propose for federal workers. Some of those possible proposals, if they become law, could be enough to drive tens of thousands of on-the-fence feds to retire before the changes take effect.

" I've still got a kid about to start college. I hadn't planned to retire for another three years. But I've had it," a senior executive said. "The commute has become a nightmare. Preparing for Congressional testimony has become an all-consuming nightmare...the two year freeze we could handle, but the fact that they might extend it is too much."

He said that even with his SES salary he had to stop making TSP contributions a couple of years ago to help pay for college tuition.

A long-time Pentagon staffer, probably a GS 15 or SESer, said " I'm getting tired of being thrown under the bus. Congress doesn't get it. You can't make across-the-board cuts without harming major programs." The man, an expert in homeland security, said he's leaving in December. He may be able to get a better-paying job in the private sector, but he said he's not leaving for that reason.

An executive with the Veterans Administration has this take on the situation:

    A couple thoughts:

    I can't find a single private company in the entire nation with a publicly stated policy of freezing their employees pay for three or more years.

    The proposals to limit the executive salaries of federal contractors below the current $700,000 limit are quite interesting. First, it seems there must be a lack of competition if winning bidders have included compensation for executives at this level. Second, Obama's report in support of the proposal says that setting a lower cap will help bring greater parity between federal and contractor executives' compensation. In attacking the proposal, Stan Soloway, CEO of Professional Services Council, argues that federal employees' salaries have lagged behind the private sector. Hmm. Are we overpaid or underpaid? I have lost track.

    Lastly, none of this matters as the committee will not reach an agreement."
    Just Plain Bill

Thoughts?

COLA Countdown

Retired federal workers find out today how much their 2012 cost of living adjustment will be. It's expected to be in the 3.5 percent range and will be the first COLA since 2009 when retirees got a 5.8 percent adjustment. Details on the COLA, and how to get it, here tomorrow.

Your Turn

Today's Your Turn radio show (10 a.m.) will cover the waterfront...Francis Rose, host of the afternoon In Depth radio show joins me to talk with Federal Times editor Steve Watkins and senior reporter Sean Reilly. We'll take a look at what the super committee might do to feds, problems with the pension program, new report cards for the Senior Executive Service, Foreign Service changes and the state of the Postal service.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

South African anthropologist Francis Thackeray believes Shakespeare's canon is full of works of high drama. Literally. According to Slate, Thackeray believes Shakespeare was inspired by illicit substances, including cannabis. He cites as evidence sonnets referencing "a noted weed" and "journeys in my head." Thackeray also discovered fragments of pipe in the bard's garden that tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and a plant-based hallucinogen.