Employees Can Start Applying For Phased Retirement Thursday – In Theory

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This story has been updated.

Has your agency weighed in yet on phased retirement? Contact klunney@govexec.com if you’ve heard from your supervisors, senior leadership or HR office about offering phased retirement to eligible employees.

Eligible federal employees theoretically can start applying for phased retirement on Thursday. But it’s unclear whether most, or any, agencies are ready to offer it yet.

OPM issued final rules on partial retirement in August, more than two years after Congress passed the law, and the agency said eligible federal employees can submit applications starting on Nov. 6. But the reality is most feds will have a longer wait because individual agencies have to devise their own plans for implementing phased retirement that meet the needs of their missions as well as collective bargaining agreements.

Many feds interested in phased retirement are going to have to wait to apply until 2015 at the earliest. The Homeland Security Department and Social Security Administration are two agencies that told employees this summer that they cannot submit applications for phased retirement in November because management needs more time to craft implementation plans. And even then, there’s no guarantee they will offer phased retirement to their workforce.

Phased, or partial retirement, is another tool federal agencies have to keep seasoned employees who are eligible for retirement on the job longer to train and mentor their successors. The benefit allows eligible feds to work 20 hours per week, receiving half their pay as well as half their retirement annuity. Those employees who enter phased retirement must devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period, to mentoring other employees, ideally for those who take over for them when they fully retire.

Agencies have broad discretion in deciding how to implement phased retirement, including deciding which jobs are eligible for it, determining mentoring activities and deciding how long an employee can remain partially retired. When eligible employees can apply for the opportunity will depend on how quickly their individual agencies can figure out a framework for offering phased retirement.

"Whether and when an agency decides to implement phased retirement is at the discretion of each agency," said an OPM spokeswoman. "The timelines for agency implementation of phased retirement may vary widely. Agencies may still need time to prepare policies and procedures; update payroll and human resources systems; and meet their bargaining obligations."

Other agencies contacted for this story, including the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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