COMMENTARY — Management

Retirees get back to work

A new provision lets agencies rehire retirees, which benefits both parties

Agencies have new authority to hire federal retirees for part-time government work, a win-win situation for government and employees. For retirees, it means new opportunities to apply their experience to pressing needs. For agencies, it can provide an important recruiting resource for hard-to-fill vacancies.

Among several significant changes in federal retirement rules under the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, agencies can now rehire federal retirees for limited, part-time government jobs without reducing their pension benefits or salaries.

The provision takes effect immediately, but how quickly agencies act on the authority will depend on whether they have vacancies to fill, funding to use and a need for people with critical skills.

With 60 percent of the federal workforce eligible to retire in the next five years, agencies might need to take advantage of the new provision sooner rather than later. Dan Adcock, legislative director at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said, “This is among many tools available to enable agencies to respond to workforce needs and fill critical positions.”

The bill limits the number of hours a rehired retiree can work: no more than 520 hours in the first six months of service, no more than 1,040 hours in any 12-month period and no more than 3,020 hours as a lifetime limit. Basically, that’s part-time work for three years.

According to the American Psychological Association, there are distinct health benefits for retirees who start working again at the same kind of job. In a national study, people whose post-retirement jobs were related to their previous careers reported better mental health than those who were fully retired or worked in jobs outside their career field.

In fact, people who make a bridge employment transition by shifting from a full-time career to part-time work before complete retirement function better day-to-day than people who go straight from full-time work to retirement.

Some agencies already had programs that allowed them to rehire retirees with no reduction in salary to offset pension benefits, but they had to get a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management. The largest program of that type is at the Defense Department.

Under the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act, DOD limits retiree appointments to 2,087 hours. That adds up to one year of full-time service or two years of part-time work.

Comments in response to my recent blog posts on this topic sum up the benefits of the new authority. “A career annuitant with proven reliability, skills needed in the federal workforce, and a desire to work hard for [32 or fewer hours a week]…is undeniably worth pursuing,” one federal manager wrote.

Another said, “This is a great option for agencies that are forced to terminate firefighters and law enforcement personnel at the age of 57.… So glad to see that we can bring our skilled workers back, even if it is part time.”

One commenter asked, “Do you really want to spend the time and money to train new people instead of hiring the retired?”

“Because of the growing deficits, the government needs to cut expenses wherever [it] can,” another fed wrote. “By hiring a retiree, there are no added expenses.… You can't replace experience easily.”

About the Author

Judith Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md.

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