House committee examines rehiring retired feds

With a large percentage of the federal workforce close to retirement age, lawmakers and human resources officials debated today the merits of rehiring federal retirees before the House Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce and Agency Organization Subcommittee.

“Seasoned federal employees on the brink of retirement have much to offer: incomparable technical skills, vast institutional knowledge, wisdom, maturity and a principled commitment to public service,” said committee Chairman Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.).

A research brief issued last week states that nearly one-third of the current white-collar federal workforce is nearing retirement eligibility. Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer coined the upcoming baby boomer retirement spike a “retirement tsunami.”

One barrier to luring back retired federal workers is salary offsets, a formula that would keep them from earning more than they would have before they retired. Normally, agencies would have to ask OPM to waive the offset. OPM would evaluate each on a case-by-case basis. It typically grants waivers to agencies that are experiencing exceptional difficulties in recruiting or retaining qualified individuals.

Patricia Bradshaw, deputy undersecretary for civilian personnel policy at the Defense Department, said DOD’s reemployed annuitants were subject to the salary offset until the 2001 terrorist attacks. After that, OPM decided to waive the offset for any employees whose skills were essential to terrorism-related issues. Of the 800 retirees DOD rehired in the two years after the attacks, 34 percent of them were not subject to a pay reduction, she said.

“Our implementing of the regulations — not the statute itself — has to be modernized in order to better serve agency needs,” said Nancy Kichak, associate director for strategic human resource policy at OPM. Kichak said OPM is already working to address the problem, and has altered parts of the regulations. As of July 21, OPM may grant or delegate to agencies the authority to grant offset waivers.

Another pay problem is that rehired feds may not qualify to keep their annuity. Private-sector salaries might pay higher than similar federal jobs and ex-feds would be able to retain their retirement annuity.

When Porter asked for possible solutions, Kichak suggested establishing part-time programs at agencies to prevent worker burnout and retain employees.

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