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EPA setting aside millions for buyouts and early retirement. Wait… what?


Remember when the President set a target of reducing staffing at the EPA by thousands of people? It was one of his first initiatives upon taking office and while the process is taking some time it’s definitely moving forward. But I’m not sure he was anticipating the way these reductions are being rolled out. Government Executive reports this morning that there are indeed plans being put in place, but much of the work thus far seems to involve setting aside millions of dollars to fund early retirement plans and buyouts.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set aside $12 million to provide financial incentives to employees to leave their jobs, taking the first step necessary to fulfill a commitment from President Trump to shrink EPA.

Following guidance from the Office of Management and Budget requiring all agencies to map out civilian workforce reductions and a preliminary budget request suggesting the agency cut 3,200 jobs, EPA issued a memorandum in April announcing its plans to complete a buyout and early retirement package this year. The new memo, sent this week from acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom to agency leadership, spelled out the funding for that initiative. Bloom said he determined the total after Congress passed the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill, which allocated $8 billion total to the agency.

We’re not talking about chump change here. The current plan is setting aside $12M for “incentive payments” for some of the people who will be cleaning out their desks by October of this year. These include $25K lump sum payments for workers who have only been on the job for three years in the form of “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments.” There are also funds for government workers who don’t even have enough time to qualify for retirement under the current system to get a large chunk of those benefits anyway through the “Voluntary Early Retirement Authority.” Here’s how that little gem is described. (Emphasis added)

Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) allows agencies that are undergoing substantial restructuring, reshaping, downsizing, transfer of function, or reorganization to temporarily lower the age and service requirements in order to increase the number of employees who are eligible for retirement. The authority encourages more voluntary separations and helps the agency complete the needed organizational change with minimal disruption to the work force. By offering these short term opportunities, an agency can make it possible for employees to receive an immediate annuity years before they would otherwise be eligible.

I am once again struck by the casual acceptance of this as part of the cost of doing business in Washington. You realize that all of these payments are being funded by the taxpayers, right? Tell me… how many of you who are working in the private sector have automatically qualified for a lump sum check equal to what some lower pay scale workers make in an entire year just to convince you to leave a job that you’ve only been on for 36 months? And even if you’ve been there a bit longer, if you are still years short of qualifying for retirement, does your boss line up a nice cushy retirement package for you anyway and just change the rules? For that matter, how many of you have a company funded retirement plan with cash annuities? (I don’t mean your 401K.) Most private sector businesses would be bankrupt in no time if they operated like that.

The fundamental problem here is that everyone in Washington has accepted it as an article of faith that every worker in the federal bureaucracy is entitled to a job and if it’s “taken away” from them they need to be paid off big time. In the real world, when your services are no longer required by your employer you are shown the door. If you’re very lucky and have performed well you might get a severance check equal to a couple of months worth of salary, but that’s generally about it. Most people simply get a pink slip.

Is anyone providing robust feedback to our elected officials about this? This is all coming out of your tax dollars. None of the people who actually pay to keep the government running out in the real world are “entitled to a job.” You compete for jobs and promotions and advance based on merit. Why is it simply accepted that this is how things work inside the federal behemoth?