Postal Service to offer early outs

tballard@govexec.com

Administrative employees at the United States Postal Service will get the opportunity to take early retirements to avoid planned layoffs, agency officials announced last week.

The Postal Service was recently granted the authority to offer early retirements through Oct. 31, 2001 by the Office of Personnel Management. To get approval, agencies must prove they need the authority to help them reduce their staff during downsizing or reorganizations. The offer came just three months after the Postal Service announced it would eliminate at least 700 administrative jobs in an attempt to reduce its expenses by $4 billion in the next four years.

"Right now we are in the process of firming up the plans and working through who would be interested in doing this, and we're going to go ahead and make firm offers once we get through with this," said Patrick Donahoe, senior vice president of human resources for the Postal Service. "It gives people the opportunity to decide their own future."

While the Postal Service reviews its options, postal workers should carefully review their own situations.

Early retirement under the Civil Service Retirement System is fairly straightforward. Once an agency offers its employees early outs, CSRS employees need only check to make sure that they have at least 25 years of service, or that they are at least 50 years old if they have 20 years of service. Then they're eligible for an immediate pension, reduced by 2 percent for each year they are under age 55.

Early outs under the Federal Employees Retirement System follow the same basic eligibility rules as the CSRS early out, but a FERS employee's pension is not reduced at all, partly because Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan investments are a substantial portion of the FERS retirement benefit.

"It gives people a chance to make a choice and if they want to go, they can go," Donahoe said. "There are, of course, some penalties-you lose a percentage of your retirement-but with the full employment economy, our anticipation is that people will say it might be something for them."

Donahoe said managers in different areas are polling employees to gauge who would be interested in an early out. The Postal Service, he said, hopes to have the first group of early retirees out by the end of the year.

"The jobs that people have that we are reducing for the most part are professional-type jobs and those skills are transferable to the outside in a private industry or some other type of work, so we think that there are some people who will be interested," Donahoe added.

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