Agencies have standing authority to offer voluntary early retirement across the executive and judicial branches of the federal government for the purposes of workforce restructuring. The goal is to grant agencies the authority to reduce high-grade, managerial, or supervisory positions, correct skill imbalances, or reduce operating costs without position loss, without linking their use to eliminating full time equivalent positions, the use of involuntary separations, or changes to lower grade.
However, there are many strings attached and just because the authority is on the books–or even if offers actually are being made in your agency–there is no guarantee you will get one.
Offers can be targeted on the basis of organizational unit, occupational series or level, geographic location, specific periods, skills, knowledge, or other job related factors, or a combination of these factors, but not performance. A determination of which employees are within the scope of an offer of early retirement would be made only on the basis of consistent and well-documented application of relevant criteria.
An agency that uses early retirements for workforce restructuring is required to submit to OPM a detailed plan describing the use of the authority and how the agency’s workforce would be restructured (note: the Defense Department is exempt from these requirements). An agency plan cannot be implemented without the approval of OPM, which can modify the plan before approving it. The plan must specify the time period during which the authority would be used, as well as the number of employees for which it would be used, although there is not a cap on the number of employees to whom early retirements can be offered.
Under OPM rules carrying out the authority, agencies must inform employees returning from military leave of any buyout offers they may have missed while on military leave, and an individual can be eligible for a buyout with three years of continuous government service, which does not have to be all with the agency offering the buyout.
However, before offering early retirements for downsizing, an agency must request and receive authority from OPM (the Defense Department again is exempt). Early retirements may be requested by the agency and approved by OPM on as broad or narrow a basis as is necessary. Agency headquarters may request voluntary early retirement authority for the entire period of the major reduction-in-force, major reorganization, or major transfer of function, or through a specified date. Agencies are urged to use early retirements judiciously based on the agency’s need to downsize and to limit approvals based on the agency’s need to continue performing its mission.
In order to receive an agencywide authority, the agency must demonstrate that the reorganization, reduction-in-force, or transfer of function will affect employees throughout the agency. If OPM approves an agency request to offer voluntary early retirements agencywide, the agency may offer voluntary early retirements to employees in all agency organizational units or may make offers based on specific organizational unit(s), geographic area(s), occupational series or level(s), or any similar nonpersonal and objective factors during a single window period or in multiple windows based on any combination of factors listed above. The agency may decide the coverage of the authority provided it does not exceed the authority approved by OPM.