Retired federal employes living in Montgomery County, many of whom have acquired highly technical skills in their careers, are saving the county government more than $100,000 a year by volunteering their time and expertise on government projects, officials say.
Since the program started in April 1983, 33 retirees have been placed in 14 county agencies and assigned to projects ranging from compiling a comprehensive inventory of Montgomery's 1,015 miles of stream channels to determining whether it is economically feasible for the police department to continue operating a personnel office separate from the county's office.
The county's Technology Transfer Program recruits retired scientists, technicians and administrators in Montgomery to work as unpaid, part-time consultants for government projects, many of which have never been undertaken before because of budget constraints, officials said.
Management consultants periodically hired by the county to handle similar long- and short-term projects are paid an average $200 a day, said officials with Montgomery's volunteer bureau, which operates the Technology Transfer Program.
The Technology Transfer Program was started as a result of the Stevenson-Wydler Act passed by Congress in 1980. It encourages federal laboratories to share acquired technologies with state and local governments.
Several federal laboratories in the county, including the David L. Taylor Naval Research and Development Center and the National Bureau of Standards, participate in the program, as well as the National Association of Retired People and other groups.
Volunteers say they benefit from the program because they like to remain active and meet new intellectual challenges.
" . . . People are retiring more frequently, and you just can't put them in warehouses," said William Kane, 64, who retired from the U.S. Information Agency and joined the volunteer program last year.
"We have to find in the future gainful, meaningful ways of keeping retirees mentally active. Otherwise, we're going to have a sizable portion of the population just sitting on their fannies and vegetating."
There are an estimated 25,000 federal retirees living in Montgomery County, officials of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees said.
"Just because your body slows down doesn't mean your mind does too," said volunteer Herman Finke, 65, a Silver Spring resident who retired from the U.S. Department of Energy three years ago.
The program, which won an award at a convention of the National Association of Counties last June, has received strong support from County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, who has toured participating federal laboratories and discussed the program with several heads of institutions.
"The county has living in it some of the world's leading people in technology and science and administration, partly because of the location of the federal government and of industrial and educational institutions in the area," said Alex Green, an assistant to Gilchrist. "That's a tremendous resource one can make available to one's own community."
Gino Renne, president of the Montgomery County Government Employees Union, said that the program has not caused any employe displacements, and added, "I think it's a tremendous asset to the county to obtain this kind of expertise.
" The program is no threat to county workers at this point," Renne said. "I don't believe there is such a great influx of these persons that could create a threat to county employes. It's not a large-scale situation."
Retirees Kane and Finke, plus a third volunteer, Eugene Kaufman, are the program's technology transfer team, and are responsible for recruiting and screening volunteers.
The team members spend at least two days a week at the volunteer bureau in Rockville, interviewing several candidates a week. They try to match as closely as possible a volunteer's individual skills and expertise with what they determine to be the right project.
"It's not just a matter of finding slots for people. We meet with them to find out what their real interests are," said Kane, noting that some retirees have been able to pursue interests other than their specialties.
Volunteer Richard Metcalf is a case in point. Metcalf, a retired housing specialist from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also is an avid bicyclist. During his interview with Kane and Finke, Metcalf mentioned his penchant for bicycling, and eventually was placed in the county's department of transportation to help plan future bike paths.
Kane and Finke are hoping to broaden the program. Their plans include computerization of the system to match volunteers with county agencies, and eventually expand their recruiting efforts to draw in more retirees from the private sector.
In the meantime, Kane and Finke both say they like the work.
"Bill and I are having a heck of a time," Finke said. "I've told Bob Herzog , 'The day this ceases to be fun, I'll leave.' So everyday he asks me, 'Are you having fun?' "