Buyouts gaining steam be ready

Thursday - 1/12/2012, 2:00am EST

For many federal workers, reading about buyouts in other agencies is as exciting and rewarding as taking a bath with your socks on. I mean, what's the point?

Buyouts are a different story, however, if it's your department or your part of the agency that has a limited-time, hit-the-road-Jack offer of $25k if you are ready, willing and able to bail by a certain deadline.

Buyouts were born in the early 1990s when $15,000 to $18,000 (that's the amount most buyout-takers get after deductions) was much more rewarding. Originally they were aimed at blue-collar, male veterans in the Defense Department. They were later expanded to other agencies on a limited basis. Congress, at first, had to approve each buyout. The purpose of the Clinton-era buyouts was to eliminate nearly 300,000 federal jobs that the White House labeled "overhead."

President Clinton wanted to shrink the bureaucracy to its pre-Vietnam-era size during the Kennedy years. Buyouts were targeted to certain occupational groups and jobs that were taken over by contractors, who continued doing work for the government — but outside the federal retirement and health insurance programs.

The 21st century version of buyouts is different in almost every way except the payout itself. It is still a maximum of $25,000 before deductions ($20,000 in the U.S. Postal Service). Congress no longer has to approve each agency buyout. The new buyouts are also often more targeted — by occupation, region and sometimes even grade levels — rather than agency-wide. The Office of Personnel Management must approve them. Initially, agencies refused to comment on buyout plans until OPM had approved them. Now — like the General Services Administration — they are so confident of approval, they announce their request before getting an official OK.

"Preempting your request isn't as reckless or confident as it seems," said a former agency HR director. "In the old days, we were afraid you guys (in the media) would publicize a request and p--- off Congress. Today the buyout machinery is much smoother ... People accept it as a good deal for the government and the need for buyouts is much more serious."

He said agencies back then "were driven by large degree by the President's desire to bring down the size of government to JFK-era levels. Today, agencies — and GSA, and Air Force are prime examples — are trying to meet current and anticipated budget levels and to avoid furloughs or layoffs. "

Federal News Radio has been swamped by requests from IRS workers asking if their giant agency, one of Uncle Sam's few profit centers, is going to offer buyouts. And if so, which groups will be targeted? We've also heard from people in Interior, Justice and Army who say they are standing by. For an updated 2012 buyout guide to agencies, click here.

If you are hoping for a buyout, there are a number of things to consider. Not least is how much money you have set aside to pay bills while living on a reduced, interim annuity payment. For more on that, click here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Forget about comparing apples and oranges. How about comparing an actual apple (the fruit) and an Apple iPhone. Some fun statistics for you, courtesy of Jerry James Stone's blog on Discovery.com.

  • The average apple weighs about the same as an iPhone 4S
  • Apples make up 17 percent of the total fruit eaten by Americans, while Apple iPhones make up 28 percent of the total smartphones purchased by Americans
  • China produces 44 percent of the world's apples and 100 percent of the world's Apple iPhones


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