Legislation would make it easier for agencies to rehire federal retirees

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., introduced two bills on Tuesday to make it easier for agencies to bring back and retain retirees to meet the government's critical workforce needs.

The first bill would allow federal retirees to return to work without having their salaries reduced by the amount of their pension payments. The second piece of legislation would grant employees under the Civil Service Retirement System who work part-time instead of retiring pro-rated credit that would count toward their annuity payments.

"The state of our economy has millions of older Americans considering all their options," said Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "For a lot of them, the downturn will mean working longer." The Partnership for Public Service, which is working with the Treasury Department to bring midcareer private-sector workers into government jobs, praised Kohl for the legislation.

"Under Sen. Kohl's leadership, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is doing the nation a great service by helping federal agencies tap into the extraordinary expertise of older Americans," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership.

The Government Accountability Office echoed that sentiment in a report, conducted at Kohl's request, on the efforts of four departments and agencies with an unusually high number of employees eligible for retirement to retain or rehire older employees to fill gaps in mission-critical occupations.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, Small Business Administration, Housing and Urban Development and Transportation departments, 46 percent of workers will be eligible to retire by 2012, the report said; 33 percent of employees governmentwide will be eligible to retire by that time. GAO noted that most federal employees do not retire as soon as they become eligible, and the economic downturn could encourage some to remain on the job until their retirement accounts are replenished, or they can save more money.

But, the report said, even if retirement rates are low, if employees in mission-critical occupations leave, earlier hiring freezes mean that there may not be other employees ready to replace them. Rehiring older workers could give veteran workers an opportunity to share their experience with younger workers, and allow agencies more time to recruit their replacements in an increasingly competitive market.

Several agencies are using innovative methods to bring back retirees, according to the report. USAID rehires its retirees as contractors, while the Social Security Administration uses a highly developed statistical model to predict retirements and to plan targeted recruiting that occasionally focuses on older workers. The Environmental Protection Agency has an agreement with certain nonprofit groups to hire federal annuitants so they can keep doing department-related work. And the State Department maintains a database of retirees that includes their skills and interests and uses it to match them to potential job opportunities.

"According to officials, this technology has allowed State to identify individuals with specialized skills and specific job experiences within hours," the report said. "Before these systems were in place, the search for individuals with specific skills and experiences would have taken days or weeks, and even then, the list of individuals would have been incomplete."

GAO said more could be done to share those best practices, including posting them on the Office of Personnel Management's Best Practices Web sites. But the report praised a number of OPM's efforts to help agencies bring back older workers. OPM serves on a Labor Department working group on re-engaging older workers, and has designed a hiring flexibilities resource center to help agencies determine when it is appropriate to ask for a waiver of the requirement mandating that the salaries of returning annuitants be reduced by the amount of their pension payments, and a template for those waiver requests.

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