It was cheered by Congress, hailed as an incredible opportunity for federal workers who wanted to dip one toe into retirement while giving them time to wrap up at the job and get their affairs in order.
It gave agencies a tool to train a new generation of workers because veteran employees could serve as role models and trainers during the twilight years of their career.
There was a lot of hubbub about phased retirement, as well as the development of a 129-page rulebook that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management released in August 2014 that articulated the regulations and processes that would make it tick.
But nearly a year since OPM released the rules governing phased retirements and several years after Congress passed a law that required OPM to develop those rules, most federal workers still can’t take this road to retirement.
Agencies are given the option to implement phased retirement, which allows full-time employees to transition to part-time schedules while letting them draw on their retirement benefits. But many agencies have not opened that door for their employees. Or they outright closed it.
The United States Postal Service, for example, is unequivocally clear about its position on phased retirement: “The Postal Service has examined this program closely and has determined that it will not implement the program at this time,” according to a statement posted on its website.
“The final rule states that agency implementation of this program is not mandatory; rather, implementation is discretionary for each agency. Agencies choosing to implement the program decide whether phased retirement will be available to all, some, or none of their employees,” according to the USPS.
That much is true. And it appears because phased retirement is optional, many agencies are choosing to not extend it to their respective workforces, much to the disappointment of many federal workers who wanted to reduce their hours on the job and begin drawing on their retirement benefits.
The law does not force workers to retire.
In general, the law allows retirement eligible federal employees to work part-time, collect a partial pension to compensate for their lost full-time salary and accrue retirement benefits for their part-time work.
The Obama Administration pitched the law as a way to stem a seemingly runaway brain drain among federal agencies since increased numbers of workers were seeking retirement, leaving many younger, less experienced workers to figure out the job on their own.
To combat the brain drain and help younger workers, the law required phased retirees to “mentor” less experienced workers for at least 20 percent of their time on the job. So, in a sense, more experienced employees pass the baton to their new colleagues.
This is an option if you work for the Library of Congress.
The tiny organization, in comparison to other behemoths in the sprawling federal system, is “pioneering the concept of phased retirement for federal workers,” according to an article published in The Washington Post.
But if you don’t work for the Library of Congress, more than likely you aren’t in luck.
Either federal workers will have to wait longer for their agencies to implement phased retirement or there is a growing possibility that it will never become available. As with anything new in the government, it surely will be a wait-and-see game for some time.