Farewell to a Giant in Retirement Reporting
Mike Causey’s life and legacy.
On Sept. 26, the federal community lost a journalist who had great respect and admiration for federal employees—and in turn, they showed him the same. Mike Causey died at 82 while seated at his desk at Federal News Network, where he was most likely preparing his next column.
For many years, Mike was the “Federal Diary” columnist at the Washington Post, and for the past two decades he wrote the “Federal Report” and hosted “Your Turn with Mike Causey” on Federal News Network. What you may not know is that if it wasn’t for Mike, I would not be writing this column. And reading about the best dates to retire would not have become an annual ritual for employees nearing the end of their careers.
In 1988, I resigned from my job as a retirement counselor at the FBI and began working for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which provides pre-retirement seminars for federal employees. At that time, the Federal Employees Retirement System was new and very few people in retirement planning seminars were covered under it. I was barely 30 years old, but I had been through the transition from the Civil Service Retirement System to FERS and had helped many FBI agents and support personnel through the process of retirement.
Like a lot of other people, especially in the Washington area, I religiously read the Federal Diary. It helped me learn more about the employees attending my seminars and the organizations that served them, such as the Office of Personnel Management, the Thrift Savings Plan and the Social Security Administration.
Once I attended a conference where Mike was the keynote speaker and after the program, I spied him on the sidewalk. Star-struck, I ran up to him and told him I had enjoyed his presentation and that his column was very helpful to me. He politely thanked me and went on his way. Imagine my surprise when not long after that he called to say he wanted to talk to me about how FBI employees had been counseled about picking their best retirement date.
Mike asked great questions during the interview and made it easy for me to explain the process of selecting the best retirement date to maximize an employee’s annual leave payout. At the FBI, we suggested employees do this so they would have some cash in the bank while they waited for their first retirement check. In those days, it was common for employees to go for a month or two without a paycheck or a retirement check after they retired.
By retiring at the end of the year, employees could carry over 240 hours of unused annual leave into the year they planned to retire. Many of them took no annual leave leading up to their retirement, so that at the end of December, they would receive a payment for 448 hours worth of leave. Mike’s “best date” column became a fixture every year, and I served as one of his sources.
Over the years, we developed a friendship and I was a frequent guest on his radio program. I always looked forward to these appearances. He had a way of making me feel both important and comfortable. He managed to make the topic of federal pay, health insurance and retirement benefits interesting and sometimes even funny.
The last episode of “Your Turn” aired this week as a celebration of Mike’s life through the words of colleagues and friends. He’s no longer with us, but he’ll live on in those of us who learned from his style and humanity. He was kind, smart, respectful, polite, hardworking and funny. Thanks, Mike. You played an important role in my life and I will miss you dearly. May you rest in peace.