Agency Jobs Watch: Education Offers Buyouts and Early Retirement

Agency reform plans were finalized in September.

This list was updated on Oct. 30 with information from the Education Department.  

The Office of Management and Budget has lifted President Trump’s hiring freeze for federal agencies, freeing them to take a more “surgical” approach to downsizing and reshaping their workforces. OMB does not plan to micromanage the efforts, instead allowing agencies to draft their own “high-level” reform plans. In September, after discussions with OMB’s Resource Management Offices, agencies submitted their final reform plans and long-term strategies for workforce cuts as part of their fiscal 2019 budget proposals.

How have agencies responded to this new freedom? Some are voluntarily extending the hiring freeze until they can get their bearings and have more budget certainty. Others have already decided to offer buyouts. And at least one large department plans to reorganize without cutting its workforce.

Below is a look at how agencies are approaching workforce changes. We will continue to update this list as we get new information. Please use the comment section at the bottom to let us know if we’ve missed any activity at your agency.

Buyouts/Early Retirement

  • NEW Education Department: The agency plans to offer buyouts and early retirement to some employees in its Office of Federal Student Aid, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post. Eligible employees will have until Nov. 15 to accept an offer, and those who do will leave by January 2018. It is unclear how many positions the Education Department seeks to shed; OFSA currently employs around 1,400 people.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: The agency plans to offer a buyout and early retirement program, according to an April memo by acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn. A more recent memo said the agency would like 1,200 employees to accept separation incentives; those approved for the offer would leave by Sept. 2.
  • Interior Department: Secretary Ryan Zinke told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on June 21 that the department will move forward with buyouts and early outs, despite some pushback from Capitol Hill. Interior requested a 12 percent cut to its budget and a reduction of 4,100 employees. The department will rely on a combination of separation incentives and attrition to make the cuts, but Zinke left the door open to reductions in force if necessary. 
  • Justice Department: Justice has no plans to offer buyouts or early retirement at the moment, a spokesman said in mid-July. "However, as the department develops its plans in response to the administration’s reorganization and workforce guidance, early-out authority and/or voluntary separation incentive payments may be considered in specific areas if those incentive programs will help further the restructuring plans," he said.  
  • Small Business Administration: SBA does not plan to offer any buyouts or early retirements this year or in fiscal 2018, according to a statement from Chief Human Capital Officer Elias Hernandez. "The administrator has made it clear; she is not looking to conduct a VERA/VSIP opportunity in the near future," Hernandez stated. 
  • Social Security Administration: SSA is offering early retirement opportunities to employees in almost every job category across its workforce, with administrative law judges being one exception. Employees must have 20 years experience and be at least 50 years old, or have 25 years of service and be any age, to qualify under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. Eligible employees who wish to accept the offer must leave by Sept. 1. 
  • State Department: The department is continuing its hiring freeze while it finalizes its workforce restructuring plan, but a report from Bloomberg in late April said a preliminary version of the plan would involve cutting 2,300 jobs, about 600 of them through buyouts.

Hiring Freeze Extension

  • Broadcasting Board of Governors: BBG will not hire anyone -- even candidates who have already been selected for positions -- until at least May 1, CEO and Director John Lansing wrote in an email to employees.
  • Defense Department: Secretary James Mattis on May 2 sent a memo allowing hiring to begin, but asking leadership to focus on the “necessity and prudence” of recruitment and hiring actions going forward.
  • Health and Human Services Department: HHS has continued its hiring freeze, according to a Washington Post report. While certain positions, such as physicians and public health crisis responders, are exempted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has racked up 700 vacancies. At a speech to employees in May encouraging employees to "reimagine" the department, HHS Secretary Tom Price said he was "not looking to achieve an arbitrary financial goal or workforce numbers." 
  • State Department: State will continue the hiring freeze “across the board,” spokesman Mark Toner said during an April 13 briefing. This means both civil servants and Foreign Service officers will be subject to the freeze, which will continue until the department’s reorganization plan is complete. (Toner said he was not sure about political appointees). In a glimpse of what the reorganization might entail, Bloomberg in late April reported that State will cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants, or 9 percent of its American workforce worldwide. Most of the cuts would come through attrition but 600 could be accomplished through buyouts (see above). The plan was not finalized at the time of the article.  
  • Transportation Security Administration: TSA will continue the hiring freeze for all non-front line positions “until we receive greater clarity on the fiscal year 2018 budget outcome,” acting Deputy Administrator Gary Rasicot said in a memorandum to employees in mid-April. Airport screeners will not be subject to the freeze, but headquarters and support positions will remain vacant.
  • Veterans Affairs Department: The department on April 26 announced that it had lifted the hiring freeze for Veterans Health Administration medical facilities and for Veterans Benefits Administration regional and field offices. "However, in order to streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions, VA will maintain a process that requires thorough review before hiring,” the announcement stated. “Hiring in the administrations must have the appropriate Under Secretary level approval; and at VA’s Central Office, the Chief of Staff must approve.”