But county officials say the arrangement has helped Virginia’s largest jurisdiction manage a workforce of more than 12,000 full-time employees, and perhaps save money, too. It’s also been profitable for scores of employees like Douglas M. Guzman.
Guzman, 58, spent three decades working for Fairfax County government as a civil engineer. His expertise allowed him to manage the installation of synthetic fields in county parks.
In 2005, when Guzman became eligible to retire at 52 after 28 years of service, he opted instead to enter the county’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP.
Under DROP, Guzman continued working and collecting his annual salary of $95,184. The money he would have received in retirement benefits went instead toward an interest-bearing DROP account that earned a guaranteed 5 percent a year.
At the end of three years, Guzman collected his $250,000 lump sum. He then left his full-time position in the Fairfax County Park Authority, as DROP requires.
But like nearly 100 others, Guzman came back to work for the county. He cannot earn additional service credits toward his retirement, but he collects about $48,542 a year as a part-time employee, qualifies for limited health-care benefits and cashes retirement checks from the pension benefits earned previously during his career.
“It’s the best thing since sliced bread,” said Guzman, a Herndon resident.
Documents obtained by The Washington Post through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act show that 95 people, including Guzman, returned to the county payroll for at least part of last year or longer after participating in DROP. Several are eligible to earn more than $100,000 a year.
Some county officials say the retirees’ return and DROP itself have benefited taxpayers and county workers alike. Others are not so sure and wonder whether DROP is part of a pension system that has grown too generous, especially in an economy that has been slowly recovering from a deep recession.
“That, I really find objectionable. They should not be able to collect a pension while working for the county,” said Frederick A. Costello, a member of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations who has studied county budget issues.
DROPs have also created controversies in places such as Philadelphia. Last year, three states enacted legislation restricting DROPs, according to a report last month from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Among those who went through Fairfax County’s DROP and returned are Edward L. Long Jr., a former deputy county executive who now oversees the transition to FOCUS, a new computerized procurement system
; Barbara A. Byron, a former assistant planning director who returned as director of the Office of Community Revitalization and Reinvestment; David M. McKernan, a former deputy fire chief who is now emergency management coordinator; and James P. Zook, a former director of planning and zoning who returned as an administrative aide to assist a redevelopment project in Tysons Corner.