ATF offers hundreds of buyouts

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering hundreds of buyouts and early retirement packages to help avoid layoffs or furloughs, a bureau official said on Wednesday.

ATF, part of the Justice Department, is offering 400 buyouts at both headquarters and field offices as a way to deal with the tight budget environment, said Audrey Stucko, acting assistant director for human resources and professional development. Stucko said ATF expects that 250 to 275 employees will accept the voluntary separation packages, saving the bureau between $15 million and $20 million. "Maybe we will get more; that would be a good thing," she said. "We are trying to do everything we can to avoid [reductions in force] or furloughs."

Eligible employees have until Oct. 14 to apply for the buyouts. Those who accept the package must leave the bureau by Nov. 30. Stucko said the offers apply across ATF's directorates but not to positions considered critical agency functions.

The bureau last offered buyouts when it moved its Federal Explosives Licensing Center from Atlanta to Martinsburg, W.Va., in 2008, according to Stucko. It's been decades since the bureau had reductions in force, she added.

ATF joins a number of other federal agencies currently offering buyouts, early outs or a combination of both to eligible employees to save money in a tough fiscal climate. The uptick in buyout offers is not unprecedented, however, government observers noted. The last time the government relied heavily on buyouts and early outs as a tool to reshape the federal workforce was during the 1990s as part of the Clinton administration's reinventing government initiative.

To be eligible for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authorization (early out), employees must have 20 years of service and be at least 50 years of age, 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. Buyouts, or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, are cash incentives of up to $25,000 for employees who meet certain criteria. Agencies can combine the cash incentive buyouts with early-out options, which is what ATF is doing.

"We'd rather have a situation where we have folks leaving who want to leave," Stucko said.

Click here for a list of agencies across government offering buyouts and/or early outs.

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