If you could retire right now, just walk away with an immediate pension, would you do it?
Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) believes a lot of federal workers would. He has taken the unusual step of asking them to help jump-start his stalled bill, which would open a three-month early retirement window for one of every six civil servants, including 40,000 to 50,000 here.
The early retirement plan was popular with many workers last year when Roth introduced it. But it has been bottled up in Congress by the Democratic leadership primarily because of objections from unions. They think the plan would destroy many government services, and cut deeply into their membership rolls.
Opponents say Roth is pulling a Pied Piper stunt, hoping to lure thousands of federal workers into early retirement so the door will be opened for private contractors to rush in and take over services traditionally performed by Uncle Sam.
Under Roth's plan, the government would waive normal age-service requirements during a three-month period. Currently, the earliest most employes can retire is at age 55, after 30 years of service. If Roth's bill became law, some people would be able to leave at age 44 on an immediate, but reduced, pension. In addition, thousands of workers who are now years away from retirement eligibility also would be able to leave during the limited open season.
The Roth bill would allow employes to retire during the open season at any age after 25 years of service; at age 50 after 20 years' service; at age 55 with 15 years' service, at age 57 with five years' service, and also permit early retirement for anyone who is within five years of meeting normal age-service requirements. Annuities would be reduced by 2 percent for each year an individual retired before turning 55.
There are at least two important catches to the Roth early-out bill. One is that agencies generally would be barred for several years from replacing people who took early retirement. That would save the government money, but it could mean added work for those left behind. And that, critics say, would almost certainly reduce service to the public. Also, unions realize they could lose a lot of members if there were a stampede to retire early.
In an unusual open letter to federal workers yesterday, Roth said: "Given the size of the federal deficit, the early retirement option provides a positive way to reduce the federal payroll. One of the goals of early retirement is to reduce the work force through voluntary measures rather than by . . . layoffs brought on by a budget crisis or greater budget restraints. The early retirement legislation accomplishes reductions by offering the option to financially able individuals. It also opens employment opportunities for younger employes."
He says Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Steve Symms (R-Idaho) have agreed to cosponsor his bill. His letter, aimed at the nearly 3 million rank-and-file U.S. employes, says: "I need your help also. I urge you to join me in a written pledge of support to demonstrate the appeal of this bill. If the bill is to succeed it is important that each member of Congress be aware of the tremendous support for, and merits of, this bill.
"The bill (S. 42) is currently in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. I am confident there are hundreds, if not thousands, of federal employes who . . . support the idea of an early retirement option. I would appreciate knowing the name of each supporter of the bill. An early retirement option for federal employes is clearly an idea whose time has come -- and you can make it a reality."