Buyouts: Don't Hold Your Breath

Getting one of the new buyouts authorized by the 1997 Treasury, Postal and General Government Appropriations Act is going to be a complicated process, according to new guidelines released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB Bulletin 97-02).

The window runs from Oct. 1 until Dec. 31, 1997. Employees will have a harder time qualifying for this round of buyouts and the sweeteners could sour some. That's because agency heads now can decide to pay less than $25,000. Previously, employees received an amount equal to severance pay or $25,000, whichever was less.

Agencies must pay the government's retirement fund 15 percent of the basic salary of every buyout-taker. And that's only the beginning of the process they must go through to get their buyout plans approved.

First, they must reduce full-time-equivalent employment by one slot for each employee bought out. Before an agency plan can go to Capitol Hill for approval, the Office of Management and Budget wants to know when buyouts will be offered and when recipients will leave; the maximum dollar amount of payments, if less than $25,000; and how much will be saved in coming fiscal years via buyouts.

If OMB OKs the plan, it goes to the following Congressional committees: House and Senate Appropriations, Senate Governmental Affairs and House Government Reform and Oversight. They want to see a post-buyout organizational chart showing positions and/or functions to be reduced or eliminated listed by unit, location, occupation and grade; number and amounts of buyouts; and a description of how the agencies will operate without the staffers and functions to be lost.

Finally, the Office of Personnel Management is supposed to keep tabs on the new buyouts. It will need quarterly reports about the number and location of buyout-takers, how they left, their average grade or pay level and the average buyout they received. OPM will send out reporting requirements soon.

On top of all that, the buyouts are limited to staffers who:

  • Have been employed for at least three years, not just one as under the last buyout round;
  • Have not received a recruiting or relocation bonus in the past two years;
  • Are not within a year of the separation date on a retention allowance;
  • Are not finishing additional service required for a deferred buyout;
  • Aren't holding pink slips for misconduct or unacceptable performance;
  • Have not received or repaid previous buyouts;
  • Neither are nor would be eligible for disability retirement;
  • Don't have statutory re-employment rights if they are transferred.

Re-employed annuitants are out of the running, as are employees at agencies whose buyouts are governed by their own appropriations bills or other measures. Those agencies include: the Agriculture and Defense departments, the CIA, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution and the Railroad Retirement Board.

The bottom line on the new buyouts: Don't hold your breath.

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