About 550,000 full-time career federal government employees and U.S. Postal Service workers could hang it up and move on at any time because they are currently eligible to retire, according to government statistics obtained Thursday. The eligible workers represent about a quarter of the 2.4 million permanent full-time employees collecting government or postal paychecks.
The Office of Personnel Management, which compiles and releases federal personnel and retirement statistics, shared the numbers Thursday after inquiries by The Washington Post. Federal workers, their union leaders and other close observers warned this week that proposals to significantly increase federal workers’ payroll deductions for contributions to their pension funds may hasten an exodus of older, experienced workers already eligible to retire.
Lawmakers and White House negotiators are considering the proposal as one of a few areas of agreement on how to reduce the federal deficit, The Post reported this week.
The OPM retirement figures include postal workers, because although they are paid separately by the Postal Service, they participate in CSRS or FERS. The Postal Service is a quasi-government agency funded only by mail-related revenue. The USPS employed about 541,000 full-time career workers as of May 1, a spokeswoman said.
A federal or postal worker is currently eligible to retire if he or she meets one of the following seven criteria:
l They are covered by FERS, are at least 56 (the minimum retirement age for FERS) and have at least 30 years of service.
l They are covered by FERS, are at least 60 and have at least 20 years of service.
l They are covered by FERS, are at least 62 and have at least five years of service.
l They are covered by FERS, are at least 56 and have at least 10 years of service. (Workers with these criteria collect a smaller anuity.)
l They are covered by CSRS, are at least 55 and have at least 30 years of service.
l They are covered by CSRS, are at least 60 and have at least 20 years of service.
l They are covered by CSRS, are at least 62 and have at least five years of service.
OPM officials could not say Thursday how many workers retired in fiscal 2010, but a Congressional Research Service report from April said 52,556 federal employees retired in fiscal 2010. The report didn’t include 2010 postal retirement figures.
In fiscal 2009, 87,907 full-time federal and postal employees retired, according to the OPM, down from the 103,292 in 2006.
The OPM lacks the authority to conduct long-term retirement estimates, according to officials who shared the statistics.
In addition to fears of an exodus triggered by higher payroll deductions, lawmakers and outside experts have said that large numbers of older, eligible federal employees are likely to retire in the coming years as the economy begins to improve. Their departures would leave behind younger colleagues unfamiliar with the intricacies of agency operations.
Ted Kaufman, a Democrat who represented Delaware in the Senate and a former federal employee, said last October that “at some point, instead of 10,000 retiring in one year, you’ll have 40,000 retire in six months. That’s what will happen — trust me — if this economy comes back and gets well and people have options.”
But OPM officials said Thursday that many eligible workers are staying on the job because they want to. The recent economic downturn may have also compelled them to keep working in order to rebuild their retirement savings, the officials said.
An OPM study from 2008 showed that four years after first becoming eligible, more than 50 percent of workers were still on the job. Almost a quarter of them were still working nine years after reaching minimum eligibility levels, the report said.