Is retirement in your near future?

Wednesday - 8/29/2012, 2:00am EDT

Senior Correspondent Mike Causey is on vacation. This column first appeared on July 11, 2012.

When you look in the mirror do you see a familiar, dashing IRS auditor, a concerned NASA engineer, a serious VA systems manager or do you have Charles Dickens moment and peer at the Ghost of Christmas Future? Are you the commuter or the "future you" sleeping late, without work deadlines and figuring out what do for the rest of your life?

Hundreds of thousands of career federal workers are eligible to retire right now. In the next couple of years that already huge number will rise dramatically. In some offices, half the staff could leave anytime. If you doubt it, look around you! Or in the mirror!

Washington's always thriving sky-is-falling industry has been predicting a retirement tidal wave (later upgraded to tsunami) for the past 13 years. But one of these days, they will be correct.

The combination of age and service-time buildup, pay freezes, congressional hostility (at least on the House side) toward federal workers, and the lure of sleeping late and skipping rush hour will take its toll. The Postal Service, the second largest federal agency, is downsizing big-time (with the worst probably yet to come). Other departments, agencies and specialized units are offering workers the chance to take regular or early retirement along with a $25,000 (before deductions) buyout.

Buyouts are being offered to some Air Force civilians, IRS employees, headquarters workers at GSA and NASA, and to some Agriculture staffers. Navy and the Veterans Affairs are also offering buyouts for a limited time. For an up-to-date list of 2012 buyouts, click here. And more to come...

The number of buyout offers is expected to jump in October. That's the start of the new fiscal year (when buyouts are most cost-effective to federal agencies). Also Congress — with all eyes focused on the upcoming election — most likely won't approve most federal agency budgets for the new year. And there is the possibility of sequestration taking effect. Few people grasp what it means, and how it would work, but most experts said it would not be a good thing.

If you are even thinking about retiring in the next couple of years, there are a couple of reality-check items to consider:

  1. How long and how well could you live if your monthly annuity payments are 40 to 80 percent less than you expected them to be? OPM is making headway in reducing its retirement backlog, but as more people decide to leave or take buyouts, it could be months before your first pension payment is deposited in your account. Meantime, as more agencies process more applications, the error rates (in the papers they send OPM) are going up.

  2. Would you consider phased retirement? Working for a few months or a couple of years longer, but putting in fewer hours. Maybe going for a two or three-day workweek. It could help you ease into retirement and also mentor (as in train) your replacement.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

A Lubbock County, Texas, judge said President Barack Obama's re-election could spark a second civil war, leading U.N. troops to invade the state. The U.N. Secretary-General's spokesman, who laughed the idea off, said: "No one, not even the United Nations, would ever mess with Texas," according to a Reuters report.


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