How do you phase in a phase-in?

Wednesday - 3/19/2014, 2:00am EDT

Question: What do federal lawmakers (members of the House and Senate) sometimes have in common with the mating habits of male giraffes, elephants or walruses?

Answer: They think something is a good idea and do it. Then they walk away to let others sort things out. (Eliminating poverty got top priority decades ago, but it is still a work in progress).

Here's another stumper.

Question: What do civil service rule-writers have in common with female whales, manatees and velvet worms?

Answer: Given the situations lawmakers regularly put them in, it can take a long time (sometimes a gestation period of a couple of years) before they can deliver.

All of the above explains, at least in part, why the White House-congressional phased retirement plan, which was signed into law in July 2012, still hasn't phased out a single fed. The Office of Personnel Management released draft rules in June 2013.

Now it is March 2014 and inquiring wannabe retirees would like to know what's up? As in, how difficult can it be to set up a program whereby people would work part- time, for a while, mentoring their replacements and dipping their toes into retirement without going cold turkey. Turns out the devil really is in the details.

Congress and the White House said this is great, do it! But do what?

It's up to OPM staffers (who will be keel-hauled by Congress if the program has any glitches) to make phased retirement work. The pending law raises more questions than it answers. Such as:

  • Benefits: People approved for phased retirement would be eligible for the federal health insurance program. But what about other things like life insurance, the dental-vision insurance program, long-term care and flexible-spending accounts?

  • TSP contributions: What about TSP accounts? Will part-time phased retirees continue to get matching agency contributions to their accounts?

  • Mentor who and for how long? The law requires phased retirees to spend 20 percent of their time mentoring newer, younger workers. But what does that mean? What if there is no pending successor to mentor?

  • Phase me up, Scotty! The proposed rules say people under the CSRS program eligible for immediate retirement (age 55 with 30 years service or 60 with 20 years) would be eligible. But what about someone 62 or older with five or more years?

  • FERS Social Security Supplement: For FERS phased retirees, would the proposed rules eliminate the Social Security supplement they get if they are under age 62? Should it?
Those are just some of the issues regulation-writers are wrestling with.

ONLINE CHAT TODAY: Today we had an online chat with benefits and retirement experts Mike Causey and Tammy Flanagan, the senior benefits director at the National Institute of Transition Planning. Click here to view the archived version of the chat.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Scooby Doo's distinctive speech disorder has been diagnosed as "rhotic replacement," which refers to the hungry canine's propensity to add the letter "R" to words ("ruh-roh" for "uh-oh," for example). He is the only known sufferer of the phonological disorder.

(Source: Discover Magazine)


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