Three out of four feds have Jack Benny Syndrome

Monday - 3/18/2013, 2:00am EDT

As one of the oldest people in my office building, I feel it is all right to ask you a somewhat personal question as you age-in-place at the office.

The question is:

If an outsider wandered into your federal building and checked out you and your colleagues, would he/she think they were in a retirement home, or a senior day-care center?

Unless you work in an agency or a job that has a mandatory retirement age, the answer to the above, for many feds, would be yes. At least that's what a lot of readers tell us.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the average age of the full-time, nonpostal federal worker in 2011 was 46.9 and the median was 48.1 years. The data shows that one in four feds is younger than age 38.7 and that one in four is older than that. So what, if anything, do those numbers mean for retirement-age workers, and does that translate in more promotion options for younger feds in a shrinking government?

In the last couple of years, the number of retirements from the federal government has jumped, big time. In February (with only 28 days) 20,374 workers put in their retirement papers although the government — which has a backlog of cases — expected only 5,600 applications. In January (always a popular month for retirement), just over 22,000 people retired

Why the sudden urge to surge?

Some people blame it on the federal pay freeze, which is likely to be extended into a third year. Others attribute it to poor morale fueled by anti-government politicians and a barrage of news stories saying that federal workers are paid more and work less than their private-sector counterparts. Others say it is simpler than that. People are getting older, and it was bound to happen.

Last week we ran a column, asking feds what makes them tick? Why do they stay on when the anti-bureaucrat rhetoric is so loud? Why not take the money and run? We got lots of responses, including:

  • "I only have 24 years in as a DoD grunt; I can't get ahead because people keep on working. We have about 10 people in our office with over 40 years. ... It is hard to say when I will retire, but I guarantee I will not see 40 years! I once read, hmmm maybe even in an article you wrote, 'No one on their death bed said they wished they spent more time at the office!' I work in Production and Engineering. When I go to the meetings, it's like going to an AARP meeting, and they have been members for 20-plus years. I kid you not, we have at least one engineer who is 82, and a bunch scaring the hell out of 80 ... are you kidding me!!! PULLEAASSEE!! After 24 years with one agency, I'm on USAJOBS every day!" — Margaret from DoD

  • "I was planning on working an additional 21 months but with all the pay freezes and brow beating of federal employees, I decided 3 January 2013 was to be my retirement date. I enjoyed working at my job over 40 years, but enough was enough. Everyone eventually retires. I so enjoy your articles and I hope that yours is not any time soon." — No Name, Please

  • "One point that I have not seen addressed is one of the side effects of the President's pay freeze for federal workers. For some of us, retirement became the more long-term economic advantageous choice. I had 41 years-plus with about 11 months to go to maximize my pension. However, because of the freeze, what I could gain by staying was less than what I could gain by leaving. So, I did so last November. The COLA for one month was only $8 applied for 2013, but I will get the full COLA in 2014. Compound that for my life expectancy, and I am well ahead financially by having taken voluntary retirement.

    "Now, with a retirement pension of just over 80 percent of my salary (with sick leave), I have taken a 20 percent cut in pay and don't have to show up for work at all! That seems better than working with a 20 percent cut due to a furlough. Something is upside down when my pension in 2014 may actually be more than what my salary would be with another year of a freeze and a furlough." — Steve, Formerly with the IRS in Richmond