Union wants rewrite of phased-retirement rules

Monday - 8/5/2013, 5:03pm EDT

NTEU President Colleen Kelley on "The Federal Drive" with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp

Download mp3

The Office of Personnel Management issued draft regulations a few months ago for a new phased-retirement option for federal employees.

But now, at least one federal-employee union wants OPM to phase out a few of its proposed rules.

Phased retirement, approved by Congress in 2012, allows feds to partially and return to federal service while drawing on half their earned retirement benefits and earning part-time pay.

The National Treasury Employees Union strongly supports the general idea of phased retirement, and worked to secure its passage into law, President Colleen Kelley told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp in a recent interview.

"Now, of course, like anything you have to work out the details to make sure it's implemented as intended," she said.

For starters, NTEU says a close reading of the proposed regulations show that only employee with 20 years of experience are eligible to become phased retirees.

"And, while at first blush, that sounds like it might make sense, there are a lot of federal employees who began their federal careers mid-career," Kelley said. "They did not come in right out of college, and so maybe they only have 15 years."

The draft rules already require that employees be eligible for "immediate retirement" in whatever retirement system they fall under, which varies for employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the legacy Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)

"So we don't think there's a need for that 20-year limitation," Kelley said.

Also, as NTEU pointed out in written comments, the proposed phased retirement regulations do not address eligibility for older employees with fewer years of service who are still eligible to retire.

The phased retirement option should be open to as many retirement-eligible federal employees as possible, NTEU argues.

Another absence in OPM's proposed rules is the lack of an appeals system for employees deemed ineligible for the program.

"There should be some way for employees to appeal that, and right now, there does not appear to be any," Kelley said. "So, of course, we want something in there to make sure that it's transparent and a level playing field for everyone who's interested."

One of the main ideas behind phased retirement is to allow more experienced employees the opportunity to mentor and train employees coming up behind them. The draft rules emphasized this idea, requiring that phased retirees spend at least 20 percent of their time on mentoring activities.

"While that sounds really practical and understandable on its face, when you consider agency budgets these days and the downsizing that's going on ... it's very possible there will not be employees hired that you have the ability to mentor," Kelley said.

OPM's proposed rules would allow agencies to waive the mentoring requirement, but they didn't list under what circumstances a waiver could be granted. Kelley said waivers should be granted to agencies facing budgetary shortfalls that have hampered their ability to hire.

Comments on the proposed rule were due by Monday.

Final action on the rule is expected in December, according to a notice on the Federal Register website.

RELATED STORIES:

OPM issues phased retirement guidance

OPM fast tracking draft regulations for phased retirement

Agencies fight uphill battle to retain critical knowledge and skills