For at least 15 years, federal pundits have been predicting — and federal workforce experts have been planning for — a retirement wave, a deluge of retirement papers from the thousands of employees who are eligible to leave government. “Certainly,” the conventional wisdom went, “after federal workers have been furloughed, sequestered, and had their benefits cut, they’ll leave in droves.” The conventional wisdom was wrong.
Year after year, January is the month in which the Office of Personnel Management receives the most applications for retirement. In January 2014, after the shutdown and sequestration, OPM projected 19,000 employees would file retirement papers. Instead, only 17,383 employees did so. Surely, after budget games on Capitol Hill continued into fiscal 2015, and a December “cromnibus” bill pushed the Homeland Security Department into shutdown mode, employees would be fed up and move out, right? Wrong. OPM again projected 19,000 departures in January 2015; and again it overestimated, when only 18,629. OPM received 101,568 retirement claims in all of 2014, a number slightly higher than several of the previous years. But out of a federal workforce of more than 2 million people, 5 percent hardly sounds like a wave. So have federal leaders been planning for the wrong thing by planning for a retirement wave all these years? That’s the question we’ll take up this week on In Depth with Francis Rose, in our special report, “The Reverse Retirement Wave: Planning a Workforce That’s Aging in Place.“ Over the three days of this special report, launching Tuesday, you’ll find resources to help you do just that on 1500AM and on FederalNewsRadio.com: Tuesday — “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” focuses on how federal employees are deciding whether they want to keep working, or whether it’s time to leave government service. Federal News Radio releases the results of our exclusive survey of more than 1,500 federal employees explaining their decisions. Federal HR experts Jeff Neal, John Salamone and Ron Sanders review and analyze the results of that survey. My colleague Nicole Ogrysko talks to several “rebounders” — employees who decided to leave, then decided to come back. Wednesday — “The Federal Workforce: The Next Generation” looks at the people waiting in the wings when today’s retirement-eligibles become tomorrow’s retirees. Bob Knisely of the Senior Executives Association and Kehli Cage of Young Government leaders will tell you about the partnership their organizations have built to make sure tomorrow’s leaders are equipped to deal with government’s future challenges. My colleague Sean McCalley looks at how well federal employees of all ages are preparing financially for their retirements with Kim Weaver of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Thursday — “Workforce 2025 and Beyond” introduces you to some of the people delivering the vision and strategy for the workforce the government will need a decade from now. Two federal chief human capital officers, Catherine Emerson from the Department of Homeland Security and Miriam Cohen of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, take you inside the strategies their agencies are using now to make sure they’re staffed as they should be in ten years. Emily Kopp introduces you to several federal employees who may be a part of that workforce, and you’ll learn where they would like to see agencies go strategy-wise. Former Chief of Naval Personnel and Fleet Forces Commander Admiral John Harvey (USN ret.), now the Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia, lays out the steps for a successful national defense workforce of the future, including the right balance of civilian and uniformed personnel, and how that integrated workforce will complement the military’s readiness challenges, brought on by shrinking budgets. The ever-evolving landscape of the federal workforce will require a revamp of the strategies individual agencies, and the government as a whole, will use. The goal of this special report is to start the conversation about how strategies should improve, and who should be involved in those changes. Your feedback is welcome, by commenting on the various components of the special report, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The experts you’ll hear in this special report agree: The challenges are big, and the answers are hard, but the risk — and the potential payoff if done right — are so great, it’s time now to take action.