Making love and buyouts — the connection

So what do making love and federal buyouts have in common?

Well, frequency is a common factor. So is technique. Generally speaking, surprises are welcome, but as one gets older a sure thing is nice too.

Consider: Last year the Interior Department didn’t do it even one time. Air Force on the other hand did it once last year and twice this year. Go Air Force!

Meantime, the General Services Administration is still pondering whether to do it and, if so, when and how often. The Los Alamos National Laboratory said up to 600 people could do it, but not if they are federal workers. In the Forest Service, rumors that large numbers of people would be allowed to do it spread like a forest fire. But nothing so far.


Buyouts, like the weather and romance, are things that a lot of people talk about and hope for. But, more often than not, nothing happens. You think about it a lot — some people think about it all the time — but nothing happens.

The most popular four-letter word in the federal vocabulary is probably VSIP. It stands for Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment. VSIPs were authorized in the 1990s when the Clinton administration wanted to cut the civilian federal workforce down to JFK-administration levels. Defense was the first to pay employees (a maximum of $25,000 before deductions) to go. Later, Congress extended the program to other federal agencies. Even the super-secret National Security Agency got into the buyout act. Because NSA is better at listening than talking, details are hard to come by.

In 2011, 18 departments, agencies or parts of agencies offered buyouts. Most had a limit on the number who could take a VSIP. Most were quickies, meaning the first to sign up got them.

So far this year, 11 federal operations — some of them repeats from last year — have offered buyouts. Most wanted employees off the payroll by March to make them most cost-effective for the government. But a few are permitting employees to leave in April or May.

Buyouts are normally most cost-effective if offered early in the fiscal year (October, November or December). Depending on what Congress does with budgets and deficit-cutting plans (most likely not very much), agencies could be in a position where they must offer another round of buyouts this fall. Other options include furloughs in 2013 and/or layoffs which because of civil service seniority rules are often very disruptive.

Bottom line: No matter how much you think about it, how much you want and need it, the availability of buyouts, and frequency with which they happen depends on a lot of outside factors. For a look at the 2012 and 2011 buyout action, click here.


By Jack Moore

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