Phased retirement: 49 and 1/2 shades of gray

Getting something made into law isn’t easy. But it isn’t rocket science either!

First get elected to Congress or the White House. Or hire yourself some lawyers and lobbyists. Or work for a politician. Then decide what you want to do, who benefits and away you go. Making something legal, or illegal, doesn’t always work.

The government in effect outlawed poverty more than 50 years ago, yet it’s still with us. Some would say it is worse than ever.

Turns out, something like poverty is tougher to eliminate than the politicians thought. Even something as non-earthshaking as phased retirement in government. Easier said than implemented.


When it comes to solving problems, politicians have the easy part. They advocate a position, pass a law, then walk away to “handle” the next problem. Either by making something else into law or outlawing something already in place. Generally speaking, it is up to other people — often the faceless “bureaucrats” of government — to make it work.

If it succeeds, politicians take the credit. If it fails, they demand that heads (not theirs!) roll. Take the phased retirement program, which has been awaiting take-off for nearly three years.

The idea is simple: Uncle Sam’s workforce isn’t getting any younger. Tens of thousands are eligible to retire. Lots of people worry about a brain drain. What happens when all that institutional memory checks out?

Solution: Phased retirement. Let people dip their toe into retirement working several days a week while they mentor those who will be left behind. What could be simpler? Once, that is, you answer a few questions Congress forgot to ask:

  1. Who qualifies for phased-retirement? Can long-time workers phase themselves out?
  2. What does one do during phased retirement? What’s the mix between time spent mentoring and cleaning out one’s cubicle?
  3. How long is the phasing-out period? Three months? Six months? Who decides?
  4. What about people who have recently retired who, once the program is implemented, want to phase back in so they can then start to phase out?
  5. How many days per week will the phased-out employee be allowed/required to work? For how long?
  6. Workers in phased-retirement status will be allowed to accrue benefits. How will that work? What about TSP contributions and agency matching contributions?
  7. What’s a “composite annuity”?
  8. What happens to survivors if the part-time retiree dies while under phased retirement?

Phased retirement was approved nearly two years ago. Last year OPM issued interim regulations but lots of questions remain unanswered.

Earlier this week on our Your Turn radio program, Andy Medici of the Federal Times said he ran into OPM Director Katherine Archeletta and asked her the timetable for the final regulations on phased retirement. She told him “soon” but he couldn’t pin her down to an exact date. Medici said he assumes soon means sometime this summer.

Meantime, get your phasers ready!


Compiled by Jack Moore

The elusive $2 bill was first printed in 1862 (it originally featured Alexander Hamilton, whose visage was replaced after a few years by Thomas Jefferson’s). Production was officially discontinued in 1966, although they’re still printed when demand rises. In fact, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing released 45 million more $2 bills into circulation.

(Source: Mental Floss)


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