Young feds: Endangered species

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 2:00am EST

Question: What do a relatively small group of federal workers have in common with the Giant Chinese Salamander or the Hawaiian Monk Seal?

Answer: There aren't many of them out there.

You are in your 20s or 30s, the civil service version of an endangered species, and all the older folks in the office talk about is "buyouts." Boorrrring...

Or maybe not.

Over the next couple of months — especially February and March — buyout offers are likely to peak. After going through the (mostly) reduced 2012 budget figures, agencies are going to look for ways to meet their new numbers without resorting to layoffs of furloughs. They are also under orders from the White House to bring in more top (and young) talent via an expanded intern program. So somebody has to make room.

Buyouts — especially for middle- and upper-grade workers — are the answer. It is more cost-effective to induce an upper-income worker to leave (with a $25,000 payout) than stay on the payroll and collect two, three or four times that amount of money by sticking around another year.

If enough old-timers (I know, look whose talking) can be persuaded, that could open the promotion pipeline which, in many parts of the government, has been clogged for a long time. Hundreds of thousands of feds (mostly under the more generous CSRS retirement program) have long been eligible to retire. Many, who were hanging on because of the economy (or they like their jobs), might be persuaded to leave with an extra $13,000 to $15,000 (their share of the buyout after deductions) to ease the transition from work to whatever.

Most agencies are operating on less money than they had last year.

Furloughs and layoffs (especially when unemployment is a major issue in an election year) are not the way to go. Layoffs — RIFs in federalese — would also cut into diversity gains which have been an important part of the administration's goal to increase the number of minorities and women in middle- and upper-level jobs. Under RIF rules — last hired, first fired — workers with seniority and those with veterans preference are relatively fire-proof. The Clinton administration initiated the buyout program largely to protect its diversity gains. Most of the buyout-takers back then were men and many of them otherwise fire-proof veterans.

Bottom line: Even if you are the youngest, least senior person in the office, with another 10, 20, 30 or, heaven forfend, 40 years to go, pay special attention when somebody says "buyout." It could be your ticket to promotion, prestige, higher pay — pay freeze notwithstanding — and a much bigger annuity when R-day finally arrives.

MLK Day

What Holiday? Monday was a holiday for most feds. But lots of people had (or chose) to work. We asked anybody who could, to check in. Such as:

  • "I am at work today. I have a project with an upcoming deadline that I do not want to miss. Unfortunately with all of the distractions during normal business hours, I will not make that deadline unless I put time in outside business hours. I am no stranger to working holidays. Since I am in IT, most of our upgrades or patching efforts occur on holidays or weekends. I am a 22 year Fed and proud of it. Even with the threats of cutbacks, freezes, etc… I am still very satisfied with my job." Scott, Small Business Administration

  • "I am an IRS employee and have worked the MLK holiday. It was time very well spent in preparation for the upcoming new way of processing tax payers tax returns. It was worth every dollar spent by the federal govenment to compensate my work efforts on this holiday. Thanks for the chance to give feedback..." RFD

  • "I started out my federal holiday by verifying some information I need to finalize reports on Tuesday. I'll probably do more work on the reports tonight after I return from visiting an elderly relative just diagnosed with late-stage cancer. In between, though, I am enjoying a few moments of relaxation and not having a two-hour round trip commute today." Dedicated Fed, GAO

  • "Holidays are a good time to respond to emails and generally catch up on backed-up work, in a quiet office setting without the day-to-day interruptions that we all experience. For those that get paid, thank you for giving up the National Holiday, and for those that don't get paid, thank you for giving up your National Holiday and donating your time." Mike of the IRS
Finally, from way down in Texas,
  • "Good morning! Yes, I am working today down on the El Paso/Juarez border. Have a good day." Dan with CBP

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