Federal Workers Delaying Retirement Because of Economic Crisis

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009; 6:21 PM

After 31 years of federal service, Cynthia Bascetta was set to retire.

In preparation for leaving her job with the Government Accountability Office, she and her family moved last year from Arlington to Fredericksburg, Va., drawn by the lower cost of living and no longer in need of a short commute to work. She informed her managing director of her intent to leave federal service in January.

Well, January has arrived, and Bascetta is still at her desk. After the bottom dropped out of the economy last fall, Bascetta, director of Health Care at GAO, reconsidered her plans to leave a job she still enjoyed. "It just didn't seem like a very good time to stop working," she said.

Now Bascetta is taking the commuter train from Fredericksburg to get to her job at the GAO, in downtown Washington.

Bascetta, 56, is not alone. Some of her older colleagues at the GAO have also changed their plans because of the economic crisis and tumbling retirement accounts, she said. "At least two people here who were thinking of retiring can't, because they've lost too much of their children's college funding," Bascetta said.

Across the federal government in the last several months, fewer employees have been retiring than previously projected. "We are seeing a decline in the rate of retirement," said Nancy Kichak, associate director for Strategic Human Resources Policy for the Office of Personnel Management. "We think it's driven by the economy."

Retirements of federal workers in the third quarter of fiscal 2008 numbered 12,013, down about six percent from the same quarter a year earlier, according to OPM figures.

In recent years, federal officials have been bracing for a wave of retirements brought on by the aging of the federal workforce -- the "retirement tsunami," as Lynn A. Jennings, executive vice president for the Council for Excellence in Government, puts it.

OPM has projected that close to one-fifth of the federal government's full-time permanent workforce will retire over the next five years, and that 36 percent of the Senior Executive Service will retire by 2012.

"Our projections are going to be changing," said Kichak. Revised figures are expected by later this month or early February.

Despite the slowdown in retirements, Kichak said the increasing average age of the federal workforce -- 46.2, up from 41.6 two decades ago -- means that a substantial portion of the government workforce will be retiring later this decade. "They may delay it a little, but people are just plain not not going to retire," said Kichak.

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