Because of budget cutbacks, many federal workers say they would gladly depart if agencies would let them retire early on immediate annuities.

Uncle Sam's early retirement rules let certain people quit on immediate, but reduced, annuities after 25 years service regardless of age, or at age 50 with at least 20 years service.

Early-outs were a popular way to trim employment in the '60s and '70s. But Congress discovered that the system is costly and that some agencies used it to get rid of political types, only to replace the retirees with their own political types.

Congress told the OPM to be stingy with the early-out authority it exercises over others. It has been.

To get an early-out an agency must convince OPM it faces serious RIFs or reorganization problems. OPM often limits the early-outs to certain occupations, grades, or geographic areas and for a limited time. It is rare indeed when an agency gets authority to offer early retirement to all eligible employes.

OPM, which has sent a general RIF notice to its staff and plans to begin furloughs beginning in April, is considering an early-out for its own staffers. A decision on that OPM request to OPM is imminent.