Federal agencies hoping to avoid or minimize RIF's (reductions-in-force) by encouraging older workers to retire are going to have a tough time selling "easy" early retirement to the Reagan team, whose coach is 70.

It has been long-standing federal policy (and law) to allow government workers to voluntarily retire early, if their agencies were facing major cutbacks. The civil service reform act also permits agencies to offer early-out when reorganizations, initiated by the White House or Congress, are under way.

In an early-out situation, eligible federal workers can elect retirement and start drawing immediate pensions (with a penalty for those under age 55) if they are age 50 with 20 years service, or any age with 25 years service.

It is technically possible for a civil servant to retire at 43, during an early out. Not many have, but it's possible. However, thousands of government workers have retired in their early 50s thanks to early-out, while most American workers are still 10 to 15 years away from retirement.

Congress last year expressed alarm at the growing number of workers who retire early -- at added cost to the federal pension fund and taxpayers -- when their agencies are not facing serious RIFs. It told the Office of Personnel Management (which controls early-outs for all) to tighten up. Ironically, OPM was the first agency to encourage (some say push) workers out because of reorganization, when it was shedding the old Civil Service Commission title and structure.

OPM is now under new (hard-nosed Republican) management. And it is taking a closer look at early-out route, will try again. This time it will request early-out for certain grades or jobs, rather than for all eligible workers.

Other agencies that have requested early-out authority for all workers may get the same turndown, unless they can prove to OPM that they are facing a major RIF involving 5 percent or more of their personnel. In most cases they will get something like the Census Bureau has at Suitland. It has a limited (through June 30) early-out authority for specific grades and job series, rather than agency-wide.