It's a bird, it's a plane ... Nope, it's a bird

Wednesday - 7/25/2012, 2:00am EDT

For more than a decade, prophets of gloom-and-doom have been predicting a government retirement tidal wave. They said a tsunami was building up that would strike federal offices, removing the best-brightest and most experienced people.

What would be left, according to the worst-case scenario, would be federal operations manned by Gen X and millennials with no institutional memory or understanding of what they were supposed to do and why. The theory was that they would spend more time on Facebook than in dealing with flesh-and-blood customers and would prefer tweeting or texting to actually talking to or, gulp, dealing in person with real persons.

Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. The federal establishment has been turning over since the 1800s and we've survived so far. Probably will again.

But the timing of the tsunami is important not only for future planning for those who remain behind, but for tens of thousands of feds who are eligible to retire, and who are planning to leave sooner rather than later. For folks planning to pull the plug, the problem can be summed up in one word: backlog

The Office of Personnel Management has been plagued, for years, with a backlog in processing retirement claims. Most of the data is paperwork, some of it is complicated, and many forms forwarded by agencies to OPM have errors. Bottom line, it takes time to process and approve an application. And to begin full (as opposed to partial) payments to the annuitant. OPM has made processing a top priority, and it has made considerable headway. The January backlog was 61,108. By June it had been reduced to 48,323, according to OPM.

Late last year, retirements jumped (they are always heavy in December and January. That concerned OPM (and people in the approval pipeline) but cheered long-suffering tsunami watchers. While the projected numbers have since dropped, a surprising number of agencies are offering late-in-the-fiscal-year buyouts and early-outs. That, plus the Postal Service's on-going shrinkage program can (probably has) put a strain on the processing pipeline. You can check it out yourself by clicking here.

Bottom line: If you are planning to retire start saving money. Assume the worst. That is, you will be on interim payments (anywhere from 40 to 82 percent of your projected annuity). Have enough money on hand (in savings) so you can pay regular bills and maintain your lifestyle (which includes three squares a day) for at least six months. Many feds don't want to, and won't have to tap their TSP accounts for years after they retire — unless they get caught in the pipeline without a financial first aid kit.

Sequestration and pay

What is it, how does it work and should you be shaking in your boots? Unless Congress does something, it begins January 1. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said yesterday it shouldn't be allowed to happen, and if it does it could trigger another recession. Or worse. What does it mean to the federal worker/contractor community? We'll talk about it today with Jacque Simon, public policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees. She'll also talk about the new GAO report, which says many comparisons of federal vs. private sector pay are distorted.

Later in the show Federal Times writer Stephen Losey will look at OPM's plan to give benefits to children of same-sex partners and the ongoing troubles at the General Services Administration. Then, Sean Reilly will look at the current state of the incredible shrinking U.S. Postal Service and about the Pentagon's changing IT operations.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

What does space smell like? That's the query posed by Life's Little Mysteries. One astronaut described the scent as metallic and said it reminded him of "pleasant, sweet-smelling welding fumes." Just in case you're curious, astronauts don't actually smell space when they go out on their moonwalks, because they're completely enclosed in a space suit. But the smell permeates their suits and other equipment and leaves a telltale whiff behind.


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