Senate amendment lets retiring feds go part-time

Friday - 3/9/2012, 1:34pm EST

The Senate passed a provision Thursday to let federal workers go part-time as they enter retirement. The amendment, offered up by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is part of the Senate transportation bill, S. 1813. The Senate passed the amendment by a vote of 82-16.

Under the amendment, federal employees eligible for retirement could continue to work part-time while collecting a corresponding percentage of their retirement annuity. As a way to preserve agency knowledge, retirees taking advantage of the system would also have to spend at least 20 percent of their time mentoring new hires.

Currently, federal employees are not allowed to begin receiving any of their retirement benefits while still employed with the government.

Law enforcement officers, fire fighters, nuclear materials couriers, air traffic controllers, Customs and Border Protection officers, and members of the Capitol Police or Supreme Court Police would not be allowed to participate in the program.

A similar proposal was put forward by the Office of Personnel Management in its 2013 budget request. OPM said the plan would help less-experienced employees acquire necessary skills and reduce the possible disruption of mission-critical functions when more experienced feds leave government service.

Baucus said the amendment would save $465 million by "reducing outlays by the federal retirement fund and increasing contributions to the fund."

The amendment drew the ire of two federal employee unions — the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). While they support the idea of phased retirements, they object to using the money saved for projects that do not directly benefit federal employees. Baucus' amendment uses the funds to pay for public roads, schools and forest-related economic development projects in rural areas across the country.

"While the change to federal retirement, a phased, part-time retirement-employment concept, may be acceptable to the federal-postal community after proper analysis and study, it is completely outrageous for federal and postal employees to be required, again, to serve as the automated teller machine for programs having nothing to do with deficit reduction," said Beth Moten, AFGE legislative and political director, in a letter sent to all members of the Senate Thursday.

The letter detailed other recent instances, in which the federal workforce was used to generate savings.

"Since 2011, federal employees have given up $60 billion (over 10 years) from the unprecedented two-year pay freeze, and the [unemployment insurance] bill's 2.3 percent increase in retirement contributions for post-2012 hires saves another $15 billion," Moten wrote. "That's a total of $75 billion."

NTEU shared AFGE's concerns.

"Any savings generated by a plan that would allow federal agencies to offer employees, otherwise eligible for retirement, continued employment on a reduced schedule while a corresponding percentage of their retirement benefits should be used by the committee of jurisdiction for federal employee-related issues," said NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley in a statement on the amendment.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) joined the unions in their opposition to the amendment.

"I am voting against the Baucus amendment on rural school funding because it is paid for primarily by changes to the federal retirement program," Akaka said, in a press release. "As a former educator I highly value school funding, but I must stand up against Congress's new habit of treating federal employees like a piggy bank.

He criticized the bill for raising money on the backs of federal employees to fund something unrelated to the federal service.

"If we are going to ask middle class workers to offset the costs of legislation, it should only be as part of a broad agreement involving shared sacrifice by millionaires and billionaires, or to fund other pressing priorities supporting federal employees," Akaka said.

In his own press release, Baucus touted his amendment for renewing the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs that expired at the end of 2011. The two programs brought in $50 million to Montana counties last year. They aim to compensate rural counties that have extensive federal landholdings from losing local tax revenue.

For rural counties, "these investments are the lifeline that keeps teachers in the classroom, lights on at the road department and emergency crews on the job," Baucus said.

RELATED LINKS:

Baucus amendment to the Senate transportation bill (Phased retirement section begins on pg. 15 of the bill.)

Bullet points of the Baucus amendment (Provided by Sen. Baucus)