Question: With all this talk about reorganizing and downsizing agencies — wouldn’t retirements alone create enough vacancies to avoid layoffs?
Answer: Federal employees may retire voluntarily on hitting one of several combinations of age and years of service. Of the 2.1 million employees outside the U.S. Postal Service and intelligence agencies, more than 286,000, or 13.8 percent, are eligible, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Agencies do look to attrition to avoid layoffs. However, retirement eligibility rates vary widely among agencies and within branches of agencies, so turnover might not happen where it’s needed.
Also, employees generally may continue working after their retirement eligibility; only law enforcement and a few other occupations have mandatory retirement. An OPM study in 2011, the most recent, found that only 17 percent retired within their first year of eligibility. Through their fourth year, 53 percent were still working and through 10 years, 22 percent.
Agencies also may offer early retirements during downsizing to create vacancies; another 198,000, or 9.6 percent, would be eligible under one of those combinations. But as with regular retirement, they can’t be compelled to retire.
Agencies commonly offer buyout incentive payments as an additional lure.