Name your buyout price

Thursday - 12/29/2011, 2:00am EST

(Editor's Note: Mike Causey is on vacation. This column originally appeared October 25, 2011. Some of the contents have been modified to correct dated information.)

At least 13 federal agencies (or parts of them) are currently offering employees the option to take a buyout and, in some cases, early retirement. That number could increase as government offices decide, or are ordered, to downsize. In addition to new departments and agencies joining the buyout parade, some operations — like Defense — are expected to expand them to cover more people.

One big difference between current and upcoming buyouts vs. those of the 1990s is speed. Back then, workers often had many weeks to make a decision and months before they had to be off the payroll. Things have changed. Now, many places offering buyouts (VSIPs) or early retirement (VERAs) want you to make up your mind quickly and turn in your ID badge ASAP. Mainly, that's to save money. The fiscal year started Oct. 1, so the quicker you are off the payroll the more your agency will save.

The maximum buyout payment is $25,000 everywhere but the U.S. Postal Service, which is offering $20,000. And we all know that everybody, as they say (whoever they are), has a price. So what's yours?

Are federal workers cheap dates? Or fed up or worn out? Ready to roll? That is, can they be persuaded to do something drastic — like leave their jobs — for a relatively small amount of money? Short answer:

We'll see.

When the government first offered buyouts during the mid-1990s they were set at a maximum of $25,000. That was before deductions. The amount that workers actually took home depended on tax brackets. For many it ranged from $16,000 to $18,000. Today it takes about $1.50 to buy something that, in the mid-90s, you could get for $1.00.

Currently, buyouts are available at Air Force, Army, CDC, U.S. Courts, Education, GPO, IRS, Justice, NASA, NRC, USPS, SBA, TSA, and VA. Buyout offers may be extended to more employees at some of the larger agencies, and agencies not currently offering them may do so sooner rather than later.

One of the biggest federal operations &mdash the Social Security Administration — hasn't tipped its hand on the buyout/early-out issue. Some members of Congress think SSA is too big even though thousands of baby boomers come due for benefits every day and demand for services is growing.

It is very likely that if more agencies offer buyouts, more people will take them. Example:

  • "I would not hesitate to take a buy out. I have only three more years. I am planning on working due to financial responsibilities but the buyout would cover that and I would be gone." B at the IRS

  • "If the IRS offers buyouts I have a suggestion. Tell people not to park their cars anywhere near an IRS office unless they want to risk it being flattened by the surge of people bailing out." Ron in the Sunny South

  • "I can tell you first hand that if the Social Security Administration has a buyout program they will be swamped with takers. Including yours truly." Woodlawn Dweller

  • "Have you heard anything about the State Dept. offering a buyout? That is all it would take for me and some of my work partners to retire. Thanks" Pat at the State Department

Buyout Guide: For the latest information on who's doing buyouts, click here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Around about July 2010, did you notice your dishes weren't getting as clean from the dishwasher? You likely weren't alone, Slate reports. That's because by that time, many states had banned the use of phosphates (an important cleaning ingredient in dishwasher detergent) and the manufacturers of the dish soaps all had to tweak their formulas. As Slate reports, the ingredient changes led to the "great dish detergent wars of 2011."


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