About one in five nonpostal federal workers, by virtue of age and length of service, is eligible for early retirement or a buyout worth up to $25,000 before deductions or both. But being eligible isn't the same as being able.

Most agencies have the authority to offer early retirement to workers. Under current early-out rules, agencies can target early-outs to special occupational or geographic groups of employees, while excluding others. Authority to offer targeted early-outs expires Sept. 30, unless Congress renews it.

Most retirement-age workers are under the old Civil Service Retirement System. Normal retirement under CSRS is at age 55 with 30 years of service, age 60 with 20 years' service or age 62 with 5 years' service. During an early-out, employees can retire at any age (with a reduced annuity) if they have 25 years' service, or at age 50 if they have at least 20 years.

Buyouts are different. Congress has limited them--so far--to 10 agencies and departments. The buyout authorities have different expiration dates.

Here's the list of the lucky agencies that can offer buyouts and their expiration dates:

Defense, September 2001; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sept. 30, 2000; Agriculture, Sept. 30, 2000; CIA, Sept. 30, 1999; Energy Department, June 1, 2000; Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dec. 31, 2000; Architect of the Capitol, Oct. 1, 2001; Government Printing Office, Sept. 30, 2001; Bonneville Power Administration, no expiration date, and the Internal Revenue Service, Jan. 1, 2003.

Agencies that have requested buyout approval from Congress include the Department of Veterans Affairs, two small units of the Treasury Department and the Agency for International Development. The General Services Administration--which is planning major job cuts--is likely to ask for buyout authority but hasn't done so yet.

Keep It Simple, and Short

The press secretary to a prominent House Democrat has found a way to enforce telephone brevity. Her answering machine advises: "Please leave your name and number. This machine does not accept messages longer than 30 seconds!"

Since trying the keep-it-short approach, she says, "my life has changed. I no longer get long-winded, here's-my-life-story messages."

Grounded for Good Reason

Twice last week, Office of Personnel Management Director Janice Lachance took red-eye flights to be on hand for the Cape Canaveral launch of the space shuttle Columbia. The White House wanted Lachance, one of the highest ranking women in government, on hand to celebrate the first space shuttle launch commanded by a woman.

Lachance is perhaps the most traveled OPM director in history. She is constantly on the fly attending events and making speeches outside Washington. In both cases, Lachance arrived at the NASA site and, with other prominent female attendees (including members of the U.S. Women's Soccer team) saw the launch scrubbed because of bad weather.

Last Thursday, she got a third call from the White House asking her to be at Cape Canaveral that evening. But Lachance had to beg off. She had a previous commitment--to speak at the going-away celebration of Robert M. Tobias. He's retired after 31 years with the National Treasury Employees Union, the last 16 as its president. Lachance said she wouldn't miss saying goodbye to Tobias, and the White House agreed it was the thing to do. She was in very good company. Dozens of top federal officials--including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.)--also bid Tobias farewell. Among the surprise guests was Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers.

Lachance predicted that since she wasn't at the launching, the Columbia would finally make it off the ground. It did--about four hours after the Tobias party broke up.

Lachance says her no-show luck applies to other things. Like many of us, she can make it rain, simply by washing her car.

Madame Director, do your stuff. We need the rain.

Hot Enough for You?

Air-conditioning breakdowns have plagued some federal offices this summer, but for the most part, folks seem to have a fairly cool working environment. But it wasn't always so. In fact, there was a time when something called the "Misery Index" set the pace for official Washington. For a look back to the "good old days" before air-conditioning, check this space tomorrow.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Sunday, July 25, 1999