Federal retirements spike as baby boomers retire, economy stabilizes

After a 36-year career with the Postal Service, Yverne "Pat" Moore says she's living the life she started planning two decades ago, filled with church and community service, grandchildren and a trip to the other side of the world.

The recently retired Ellicott City woman is part of a wave of workers who are leaving federal employment as baby boomers age out of the workforce and managers offer buyouts to help reduce spending. Those who have waited for the economy to stabilize are also now exiting.

The rate at which they are retiring has exceeded expectations: Nearly 95,000 federal workers left this year through October, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, surpassing projections by more than 8,800. Another 78,000 are estimated to retire by next July.

William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, blamed what he called the "exodus" in part on "legislative attacks" by Congress that he said threaten to erode pay and benefits. Dougan, whose union represents 110,000 federal employees, said many experienced workers would rather leave now than risk reductions to a retirement package they have banked on, he said.

"I think the federal workforce faces a crisis," Dougan said. "I think we are going to have brain drain. A lot of the talent and institutional knowledge will be walking out the door."

The spike is expected to continue. Projections show 53 percent of full-time federal workers will be eligible to retire by 2014; Dougan said 30 percent of them will.

Government agencies have taken steps to try to soften the impact of so much knowledge and experience walking out the door, including allowing employees to work fewer hours and collect a portion of their retirement pay while sticking around to mentor the next generation of workers.

Patricia Boone of Edgewood is an Army veteran and civil servant at the Aberdeen Proving Ground with more than 30 years of experience. She dropped back to part-time hours as a contractor to transition into retirement and help train the newer men and women on staff.

"The more experienced employees … know a lot about how to make things work," said Boone, 59.

Boone said she's looking forward to pursuing experiences she didn't have the time to do before.

"I think retirement nowadays doesn't mean you stay home and you look out the window," Boone said. "It's just a change. I still want to stay active in my community."

Lindsey O'Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management, said the decision to retire is a personal choice, and the agency cannot speculate on the spike in retirements.

Dougan sees three reasons.

In addition to concerns about decreased retirement benefits, he said, some federal workers have grown discouraged by budget cuts that they believe make it more difficult to provide the services taxpayers expect.

Dougan said many workers waited out the recession and lingering slump until the economy improved and they had time to rebuild retirement accounts before leaving their jobs.

"There is a just a lot of federal workers who are approaching retirement age who are looking to move on to the next stage of their life," Dougan said.

Moore, the Postal Service retiree, said she had achieved all her career goals and wanted to retire while she was healthy and able to live an active life. She retired in September as the human services manager for the Baltimore district, which stretches from Harford County to the Eastern Shore. During her tenure she had worked as postmaster in Owings Mills, Columbia, Elkridge and Washington.

Nearly 27,900 postal workers retired in the fiscal year that ended in September, according to Freda Sauter, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service. Another 2,200 have retired since October, she said.

First on Moore's retirement agenda was a one-month trip to South Korea and Hong Kong, which she said made up for all the times her vacations were cut short by work demands. Now, she spends many days at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, where she serves as a deacon.

"What does America think of our departure? I am not really sure," said Moore, who is 57. "I hope that we have sewn into the fabric of the next generation a good work ethic. Our generation is very happy to be retiring in good health and in reasonably better financial positions than our parents would have been in."



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