GAO plans to offer buyouts, early outs

The Government Accountability Office is planning to offer buyouts and early outs to employees, becoming the latest federal agency to try to restructure its workforce during tough fiscal times.

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro sent a memo to employees Aug. 8 informing them GAO will seek approval from the Office of Personnel Management to offer Voluntary Early Retirement and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment opportunities, known commonly as early outs and buyouts. The memo lists 56 positions agencywide that are eligible for buyouts, including attorneys in the Office of General Counsel and criminal investigators. Members of the Senior Executive Service and employees in the Office of the Inspector General are among those who are not eligible for buyouts in this round.

Employees interested in a buyout or early out must apply by Sept. 6 and leave the agency by Sept. 30.

"Although we have not yet received approval from OPM, we are issuing notice of the buyouts now, conditional upon OPM approval, in order to give staff as much time as possible to consider their options and submit applications," the memo said.

While both are voluntary, buyouts and early outs are different. To be eligible for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authorization (early out), employees must have 20 years of service and be at least 50 years old, or have at least 25 years of service -- this applies to those covered under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. CSRS employees younger than 55 face a 2 percent penalty on their annuity, but can earn cost-of-living adjustments upon retirement. FERS employees won't get dinged on their pensions, but in most cases they will not receive COLA benefits until age 62. Buyouts, or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, are cash incentives of up to $25,000 for employees and can be offered along with an early out.

GAO is one of several agencies turning to buyouts and early outs in the difficult budget environment. The Agriculture and Education departments as well as the Government Printing Office have announced plans to offer the incentives. The U.S. Postal Service and Smithsonian Institution also are offering voluntary separation packages, and the Air Force Materiel Command in May started gauging civilian workers' interest in potential buyouts.

Click here for a list of agencies either considering or offering buyouts.

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