Life After Government: What To Do

By Karen Rutzick

September 21, 2005

After 25-plus years in the federal workforce, a natural question concerning retirement is, what next? What exactly will you do with an extra 40 hours a week, every week?

"You need to focus perhaps more on what it is you are retiring to, rather than what it is you are leaving," said John Grobe, author of Understanding the Federal Retirement Systems (FPMI Solutions, Inc. January 2005).

Grobe suggests that those considering retirement -- especially employees on the younger side--give themselves a test. Take out a piece of paper and see if you can fill it with a list of 24 hours of activity. He also suggests trying out life as a retiree before you actually leave government. Most federal employees nearing retirement age have considerable annual leave accrued. If you're considering moving to Florida, spend four weeks there. If you want to open a business, start one on the side.

The Private Sector

A federal employee can retire and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company without taking a deduction from his or her government pension. But participants in the Federal Employees Retirement System should be aware, though, that Social Security benefits will be reduced by private employment to varying extents depending on your age and how much you earn.

There are two types of private employment that retired federal workers can look for: jobs that use the skills they gained during civil service, and those that do not. Lucrative private opportunities, such as consulting or working for a contractor, often require federal employees to utilize their inside-government expertise.

Employees leaving the federal service with a security clearance are in high demand. Companies such as and Kelly FedSecure are entirely devoted to helping private companies find employees with security clearances. There is a higher demand for the skills of retired federal employees in places such as Washington, where a larger concentration of government-related companies are based.

Regulatory agency employees often can find jobs in the industry they oversaw, although they should be aware of rules regarding conflicts of interest, to avoid complications and heavy fines.

The process of getting a private sector job is very different from the government's hiring and promotion process. Grobe advises job-seekers to organize their resumes by the results they've achieved, rather than simply listing their jobs in chronological order. Resumes should highlight desirable private sector skills such as "continued growth, initiative...communication skills, being willing to do what it takes to get the job done, [and] detail-orientation," Grobe said.

For employees who aren't looking to capitalize directly on their government experience, a number of other private-sector options are available. Georgia Bohuslav, a federal employee retirement counselor and contractor with FPMI Solutions Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., said one example is substitute teaching. In some cases, retirees are eligible for such jobs even if they don't have a background in education.

And there's always that antique shop you've dreamed of. Federal retirees can entertain part-time or unsteady work possibilities because they carry over their benefits -- a real advantage over nonfederal retirees who often have to foot the bill for their own health insurance or wait until they're 65 to qualify for Medicare.

From Retired to Rehired

Going back to the government on a part-time or contractual basis is another option. Most retirees who do this have to endure the "annuity offset," meaning they work for free up to the amount of their retirement check. Some agencies have gained permission from the Office of Personnel Management to hire back retired workers at full pay for specific jobs, on a limited basis.

The rules for these exceptions are stringent: Rehired annuitants must have irreplaceable skills, cannot have taken early retirement options and may work in this capacity for no more than two years.

According to James Thompson and Sharon Mastracci, authors of the report, "The Blended Workforce" from the IBM Center for the Business of Government in Washington, in some situations "it may well make sense to rehire a retired individual who already possesses needed competencies," and the trend may expand in the near future.

Thompson and Mastracci report that the Social Security Administration is one agency utilizing retired former employees. SSA hired back a number of retirees to train new employees, passing on their institutional knowledge and allowing full-time employees to continue mission-critical work without disruption.

Good Works

For federal employees who aren't looking to augment their income, volunteering, hobbies, travel and continued education are alternative approaches to the retirement years.

Check out Web sites such as and to get connected to volunteer opportunities in your area.

Many area universities make classes available to retirees for a small fee. In addition, Elderhostel is an organization that hosts educational trips and classes at universities and cities all over the world.

Help With the Transition

The State Department offers a list of organizations that provide information to ease the transition to retirement. In addition to their own Career Transition Center, department officials recommend linking up with your alma mater for networking opportunities, or joining one of a number of networking groups, such as Forty Plus, with chapters around the country that help professionals over 40 to find jobs, or the Executive Networking Group run by McCarthy & Company in Arlington, Va., which holds networking sessions for members.

In addition, the State Department suggests a number of resources for finding career counselors, such as the National Board of Certified Counselors and the National Career Development Association.

By Karen Rutzick

September 21, 2005