New Year’s retirement tsunami headed our way?

(Senior Correspondent Mike Causey has the day off. This column was originally published Oct. 15).

Since the late 1990s, experts — real and imagined — have warned of a human-capital nightmare that would strike Uncle Sam dumb. Figuratively and literally. Dumb! As in dumb, dumb.

It was envisioned as a close encounter of the worst kind. Pick your nightmare combination. Maybe a union of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Phil Spector after a rough night. A shape-shifter that would shake and maybe break the very foundation of our government: Human capital a.k.a people. Like you.

Each and every year, various experts have spotted a tidal wave building up just over the horizon, which morphed into an even scarier-sounding tsunami. One that would pull hundreds of thousands of the government’s best, most experienced people into retirement. Or into the private sector — if there are any comparable-paying jobs out there.


Over the years as the brain-draining tsunami failed to form, experts said that when it did hit, it could also leave Uncle Sam with over-the-hill time-servers who had no outside job prospects and were reluctant to retire.

The best and brightest would be gone, they feared, and the dumb and dumber would inherit the government.

Now, after almost 13 years, the tsunami forecasters seem to be on the right track. Government retirements, for a variety of reasons, are up dramatically and rising every month. Some of it is the coming of age of baby boomers. Thousands qualify for retirement each year. And with a third year without a pay raise coming up, some who might otherwise have stayed on are having second thoughts.

Earlier this year, Federal News Radio’s Michael O’Connell crunched the numbers and said the tidal wave might have begun. Some self-appointed “experts” (like me) said not yet. But maybe we were wrong.

The number of retirement applications jumped 24 percent between 2010 and 2011, when 104,810 people pulled the plug. Although December is typically a slow month for retirements, applications jumped from 4,726 in 2010 to 7,041 in 2011. We’re still waiting for this December’s final numbers.

Buyouts and early-out offers in the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security Administration and other agencies are clearly adding to the flood of retirements.

So what will it do to agencies — like yours — if the T-wave hits?

A long-time IRS employee in the Midwest said:

“…I cannot wait for 2014. Not only will I be able to retire, but 70 percent of the IRS employees working in insolvency (handling bankruptcy cases) will be eligible to retire. I hope they all go. I am one of three senior employees in my office with 26 years service. Otherwise there is nobody with more than 10 years experience…The IRS will lose so much experience. It took me, with 20 years service at least three years to feel comfortable in this job and know what I was talking about. The newbie’s don’t know or haven’t had the experience I have had in my career because of the changes that have been made…there soon will be so many people lost in jobs they don’t know how to do. There will be fewer of them and they will be expected to do more.”

So how about you. Is the T-monster here or just around the corner. And what’s in it for you and your agency?


By Jack Moore

The happiest word in the English language is “laughter,” according to a group of mathematicians at the University of Vermont. (Click here to read their study). The unhappiest is “terrorist.”


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