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Are Washington’s policies causing a retirement ‘brain drain’ at federal agencies?

A new online ticker from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees association claims to show the hours of institutional knowledge lost through federal-worker retirements this year, illustrating a supposed “brain drain” caused by increased retirements at a time when the government is cutting back on hiring and freezing salary rates.

The ticker showed nearly 920 million hours of lost experience in 2013 as of Sunday evening. NARFE claims retirements cost the government an average of 10,000 years of knowledge every day.

(Wikimedia Commons) (Wikimedia Commons)

Data from the Office of Personnel Management shows that more than 82,000 federal workers have filed retirement claims since January, representing a jump of 30 percent. The agency has said a dramatic increase in retirements this year for the financially struggling Postal Service has contributed to the rise.

NARFE said in a statement that policy decisions to furlough workers, freeze pay rates and increase contributions toward retirement benefits may be encouraging workers to retire prematurely. It said the losses are “threatening the services they dedicated their careers to building.”

The numbers on the ticker may oversimplify matters a bit.

NARFE said in its statement that the 82,000-plus employees who retired this year have taken 2 million years of experience with them, meaning each would have worked an average of 24 years for the government. But OPM rules allow workers to retire with less service. For example, a 62-year-old employee can retire with benefits from the Federal Employee Retirement System after just five years with the government, while a 60 year-old can retire after 20 years.

It is unclear how NARFE came up with its average of 24 years of service for each retiree — was it an assumption or was it based on actual OPM data? The Federal Eye has requested an explanation from the group and will update this blog to clarify the methodology if possible.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.



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Josh Hicks · August 16, 2013

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