Longtime federal personnel officials are counting on "gut flutter" -- prompted by a growing fear within the federal work force that something drastic is about to happen to the retirement program -- to open up jobs in the months ahead.
An unexpected exodus of employes could come in handy if Congress decides to force agencies to trim 80,000 jobs next year as part of the deficit-reduction program. Cuts of that magnitude have been suggested by the Senate Budget Committee.
Some agencies report an increase in the number of workers who are asking to have their jobs abolished -- and that isn't as crazy as it sounds.
If their jobs are abolished, employes who would otherwise have to work at least until age 55 to retire on pensions could leave after 20 years' service at age 50, or at any age after 25 years' service. Although annuities are reduced for such early retirement, it does permit the relatively young retirees to get immediate and lifetime retirement benefits much earlier.
Several personnel directors contacted yesterday said they are closely monitoring requests from employes to have jobs abolished.
The Reagan administration wants to raise the federal retirement age from 55 to 65. Although the Senate Budget Committee has rejected that plan in favor of other program cuts, it has unnerved workers who don't relish the idea of having retirement rules changed on them in mid-career.
"We're watching them requests for discontinued service retirement and we expect to see an upturn in them," a personnel officer said yesterday. "Even though the 65 retirement thing is dead for now, people seem to have the feeling that it will keep coming back until eventually it, or some other drastic change, is approved."
Another officer reported that "some of my people, particulary the older workers who had counted on retiring in a couple of years, are walking around here like zombies. You can tell by their groans what section of the newspaper they are reading."
Some agencies, anticipating cuts or a hiring freeze, have stepped up recruitment of hard-to-find workers, such as computer specialists and clerical help, to get them on board before the other shoe drops.