With all of the concern about potential restructuring and downsizing, many people I talk to are thinking about leaving the government—but, to a person, they are waiting for a buy-out. While I certainly understand how a buyout might be attractive, there are 5 reasons you may not want to wait:
Reason 1: You may not actually get a buy-out. Buyouts, officially known as Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP), allow agencies that are downsizing or restructuring to offer employees lump-sum payments up to $25,000 as an incentive to voluntarily separate. When authorized by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an agency may offer VSIP to employees who are in surplus positions or have skills that are no longer needed in the workforce who volunteer to separate by resignation, optional retirement, or by voluntary early retirement, if approved. Agencies are not required to offer VSIPs (although obviously many do). And, even if a VSIP is offered in your agency, you may not be eligible as each agency must develop a VSIP which defines what positions and grades will be covered. If your position / grade /occupational series / location is not covered by the VSIP, you are out of luck.
Reason 2: If you are offered and accept a VSIP, you are restricted from returning to the federal government for 5 years—unless you want to repay the VSIP amount. According to OPM, an employee who receives a VSIP and later accepts employment for compensation with the Government of the United States within 5 years of the date of the separation on which the VSIP is based, including work under a personal services contract or other direct contract, must repay the entire amount of the VSIP to the agency that paid it – before the individual’s first day of reemployment. Waivers are available but they must be requested from OPM.
Reason 3: $25,000 is not as much money as you think. With the exception of the Department of Defense (DoD), VSIPs are $25,000 ($40,000 for DoD employees). Taxes are taken out of your VSIP. What you are left with may not last you that long.
Reason 4: If you are waiting for a VSIP, you can be assured that many other federal employees are too. If you plan to get a job in the private sector, you will likely be competing against your colleagues for the same jobs—and at the same time. This could make your post-VSIP job hunting process more competitive than you had anticipated.
Reason 5: Getting a job takes time. Especially a job in the private sector where you may have few connections. While it is certainly possible that you will get the first job you apply for, it is more likely that you will have to apply for multiple jobs over multiple months. Why not get started now, while you are still employed? That way, if you get a job, you can make a positive decision about whether it is the right one for you or not. That is a much better position to be in, rather than waiting for that buyout (that may or may not come) and then getting started on your job search.