House bill would offer early outs to Air Force civilians

klunney@govexec.com

As many as 1,000 civilian Air Force employees could be offered early retirement under a three-year pilot program included in a recently passed House bill.

Sponsored by Reps. Tony P. Hall, D-Ohio, and Dave Hobson, R-Ohio, the bipartisan legislation was included as an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill for fiscal 2001 (H.R. 4205). The provision is aimed at opening job slots for up-and-coming scientists and engineers with valuable technical skills.

"You cannot develop a cadre of experts in modern aerospace technology overnight, and we have to start building the next generation of aerospace leaders today," said Hobson.

The General Accounting Office has reported that in the next five to seven years more than 35 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. The amendment in the House bill seeks to spread out over several years the retirement of senior workers to avoid a sudden, dramatic loss of brain power.

"The Air Force is facing a crisis. Unless personnel practices are changed, the Air Force will lurch from a predominantly senior workforce to one that is largely inexperienced. Without a smooth transition, the vital institutional knowledge . . . won't be passed on," Hall said.

The Air Force estimates that it will save more than $60,000 over five years under the Hall-Hobson measure for each slot vacated. Salaries for employees eligible for retirement are typically twice that of a replacement hire.

Since 1989, the Defense Department has reduced the size of its workforce by 36 percent, resulting in fewer new hires.

Under the current system, the early out and retirement incentive law can only be used for reducing the number of employees affected by reductions in force. The Hall-Hobson provision lets the Air Force use incentives of up to $25,000 to maintain a highly skilled workforce.

Under the legislation, the pilot program would be limited to 1,000 employees and would expire on Dec. 31, 2003.

The Senate version of the defense authorization bill does not contain a similar provision for early outs and retirement incentives, but a source on Capitol Hill said one is being considered. H.R. 4205 is scheduled to hit the Senate floor when Congress returns from recess next week.

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