Less than 100 federal employees have signed up for phased retirement

More than four years after Congress signed off on the program, less than 100 federal employees have submitted applications for phased retirement to the Office of Personnel Management.

According to OPM’s latest count, 90 federal employees have applied for phased retirement at the time of Federal News Radio’s Aug. 15 request. Both NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency have seen the most interest in the program from their employees.

But considering the vast number of people who are or will soon be retirement-eligible — 31 percent of the federal workforce by September 2017 according to the Government Accountability Office — OPM’s latest tally shows sluggish progress and little buy-in from federal employees who have applied to the program:

NASA: 19

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Environmental Protection Agency: 16

Library of Congress: 14

Smithsonian: 11

Energy Department: 7

Administrative Office of U.S. Courts: 4

Justice Department: 3

National Archives and Records Administration: 3

Bonneville Power Administration (Energy): 3

Agriculture Department: 2

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: 2

Broadcasting Board of Governors: 2

Labor Department: 1

Interior Department: 1

Federal Trade Commission: 1

Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission: 1

As of January, 31 people across government had applied for the phased retirement program, according to Government Executive.

OPM’s August tally is certainly better than previous reports, but the numbers are still disappointing for some federal organizations that have long been proponents of phased retirement.

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“90 phased retirees is a notable increase over the previous publicly available figure of around 30,” Jessica Klement, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees association, said. “However, we’re still hearing from NARFE members that they don’t have any information from their specific agency on the program. For a program that’s been available for almost a year, and for one that saves money, 90 participants, while an improvement, is still too few.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has pushed OPM and agencies to move more quickly on phased retirement before, said the program was still too underutilized.

“While I am pleased to see the adoption of phased retirement policies at the Department of Defense, the reported number of applications received across the federal government is discouraging,” he said in a statement to Federal News Radio. “I welcome congressional oversight to see how we can make strides in better implementing this workforce management tool.”

Retirement eligible federal employees who sign up for the program agree to work part-time in their positions while collecting half their salary and half their accumulated retirement annuity. Once approved, phased retirees must dedicate part of their working hours — 20 percent in some cases — to mentoring other employees who plan to take over their job responsibilities once they leave.

Congress passed a law in 2012 authorizing the phased retirement program for federal employees. But final regulations didn’t come from OPM until 2014. Agencies got the green light in November 2014 that they could begin accepting applications for the program from their employees.

Individual agencies are responsible for issuing and implementing their own specific guidelines on phased retirement. But many agencies have been slow to unveil them, and some, like the Social Security Administration, have opted not offer the phased retirement to their employees.

The Defense Department is the latest agency to offer more details about its phased retirement program. DoD components are opting to introduce phased retirement based on their own terms and mission needs.