Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that the Smithsonian Institution was trying to cut its staff by 6,000. The institution has about 6,000 federal employees; it did not set a target for the buyout program.

As defense agencies hire, other government workers get incentives to retire

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Uncle Sam may be hiring, but he's also trimming staff in some corners of the government, as agencies suffer through a budget squeeze or shift their focus.

The federal government hired 97,445 people in the first nine months of 2009, mostly for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, according to the Office of Personnel Management. But just as new faces show up at some offices, seven agencies or departments hope to cut about 37,000 workers with buyouts and early-retirement offers.

They're dangling $25,000 buyout offers and varying amounts for early retirement, depending on a worker's full government tenure. Workers age 50 and above with at least 20 years of service and employees of any age with at least 25 years of service are eligible for early retirement.

The Postal Service extended such offers to 30,000 employees -- by far the most of any government agency this year. A little more than 21,000 have accepted the offers, which expire Thursday.

The 6,000 federal workers at the Smithsonian Institution have until January to accept early-exit offers as the agency tries to cut its staff amid declining revenue. So far, 158 have accepted.

The Postal Service and the Smithsonian are quasi-government agencies and handle buyouts and early retirements independently of other agencies. The departments of Agriculture, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Treasury offered a combined 1,444 buyouts to workers in hopes that at least 90 percent would accept. Those same departments and Labor are also making limited early-retirement offers. Some of the offers expire Thursday; others remain available until September 2011.

The current wave of enlisting departures is down from earlier this decade, when 51 federal agencies offered buyouts and early retirements between 2002 and 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Clinton administration's "reinvention of government" eliminated more than 300,000 full-time jobs with the help of buyouts.

Such offers "kind of go in cycles," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. She has experienced several rounds of early-retirement and buyout negotiations at the bargaining table.

"More often than not, it is about agencies looking to reorganize themselves, and they decide that their work has changed dramatically," Kelley said.

That's what has happened at the U.S. Geological Survey's New Mexico Science Center, which offered buyouts or early retirements to 137 workers. Ten have accepted. Agriculture, Education and HUD are cutting positions as part of a management reorganization.

Other agencies are trimming staff for economic reasons. Much like the Postal Service, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing hopes to cut 227 jobs amid declining revenue. Yearly orders for printed money have dropped by billions of notes in recent years.

Financial advisers caution federal workers to review buyout and early-retirement offers carefully.

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