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OPM director pushes part-time work in lieu of retirement

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Federal employees should be able to work fewer hours in their later career, staving off full retirement, the Office of Personnel Management chief said Monday.

OPM Director Linda Springer said she wants part-time arrangements for longtime federal employees to become common and easier to arrange, as a piece of a plan to cope with an aging workforce in what she termed a "transformation of the mindset."

"I don't think, personally, it has to be a cliff," Springer said, referring to the transition between full-time employment and retirement. "Why can't we have people work 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week?"

As part of her agency's commitment to expanding part-time work arrangements, Springer cited a legislative proposal offered in the fiscal 2007 budget, which would remove a penalty to employees in the Civil Service Retirement System for working part-time. The director said OPM is looking to find more ways to promote part-time work.

The penalty comes as a result of a 1986 law passed to prevent part-time employees from abusing the system by switching to full-time employment for the last three years of service and receiving a fully funded annuity. Federal annuities are calculated based on the top three highest earning years of employment.

Now, Springer said, the focus is more on supporting part-time work.

"We've got to go through at OPM and find these barriers," Springer said, speaking at a luncheon sponsored by Government Executive.

Many employees who are eligible for retirement want to continue their work in some capacity, but "don't want to have to work 40 hours a week," Springer said, labeling these employees "boomerangers" in reference to a Feb. 18 article in the The Economist magazine.

"We like boomerangers, by the way, at OPM," Springer said. "[It's] a model we'd like to see more of in the federal workforce."

But Springer said instead of actual boomerangers - baby-boom generation employees who leave the federal workforce for retirement and then return -- she wants employees who "don't leave in the first place," instead opting to cut their hours.

Springer said the institutional and program-specific knowledge that experienced workers take with them upon retirement is a motivating force behind encouraging part-time schedules.

Part-time work, coupled with other flexible work arrangements, was a focus of the operational plan OPM released last week. It called for OPM to work with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and individual agencies to promote flexible work arrangements.

The broader issue of retirement, as many federal employees are becoming eligible to leave over the next several years, has been one of Springer's themes since she took over the agency in June.

"I don't think there's anything that's more of an interest, more of a concern, more of a focal point at OPM," she said.

 
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