Is this your up-or-out year?

Every year, about 59,000 federal and postal workers become eligible for retirement. That’s in addition to the huge number of workers (as many as one-third of the people in some agencies) who are already eligible to retire. Some have been good-to-go for a decade.

And except for Benjamin Button, nobody’s getting any younger!

The huge number of people who can retire grows year after year. The Government Accountability Office said that from 2004 through last year, the total federal workforce increased 14 percent. The number of permanent employees jumped 15 percent. Most of the hiring was in Defense, VA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Many of the new hires, GAO said, came into middle and upper grade jobs that require greater skill and education levels than employees hired 20 to 30 years ago. Much of that is because of the post-9/11 technology surge.


The numbers mean a lot. Including the obvious — that there are lots of younger workers, with high expectations, chomping at the bit for promotions. For a variety of reasons, including the recession and the weak outside job market, many feds who planned to retire years ago are holding on. But that could be about to change and February may be an indicator.

January is a popular month to retire. The Office of Personnel Management estimated that 20,000 feds would retire last month (January.) In fact “only” 17,183 claims were received. Some people chided OPM for missing the mark again. To me, and lots of others, missing the mark by fewer than 3,000 is just short of amazing, given all the reasons people have for not retiring just now.

Up until January of this year, people retiring under the FERS system could only get credit toward retirement for half of their unused sick leave. In mid-month the formula changed. Now FERS employees can apply all their unused sick leave toward retirement. In some cases, it won’t make much difference. Their annuity will only be slightly higher. But slightly is better than half slightly. And for some the chance will be a noticeably bigger lifetime annuity.

Many CSRS employees retire the first three days of the month, whereas FERS people often retire on the last day of the month. That could have an impact on the “low” January retiree rate. As more FERS employees become aware of the full sick leave credit benefit, more are likely to retire.

So for people who have been predicting a “retirement tsunami” (since 1999 by the way), your day may have come. If the next few months exceed previous retirement rates, the tidal wave may be in motion. And that could make a lot of people — the out-going and the up-coming — very happy.

Got questions about retirement planning?

Tomorrow on our Your Turn radio show benefits expert John Elliott will be our guest. He’ll talk about what you should be doing as a new fed, in mid-career and as you approach retirement. Things like the five-year health insurance rule, do you need Medicare in retirement, and providing for a survivor annuity.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


Compiled by Jack Moore

Most people lie once or twice a day, according to Psychology Today. People lie in about one-fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 minutes ore more.

(Smithsonian Magazine)


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