Although the concept of phased retirement is advancing in Congress, several provisions of the measure under consideration would mean that the new retirement alternative would not be as widely available, nor as soon, as many federal employees expect.

Under the plan, employees would be allowed to take retirement but continue to work part-time, drawing a proportionate salary plus a proportionate annuity, depending on the percentage of working time. The presumption is that typically phased retirees would work half-time and spend a fifth of their working time mentoring younger workers, although exceptions to both would be allowed.

The proposal has cleared the Senate as an amendment to an unrelated bill as well as the key House committee handling civil service matters.

However, phased retirement would not become a blanket entitlement. It would be up to agencies to decide for which positions they would make phased retirement available. In that way, it would be similar to the authorities that agencies currently have to allow retirees to return to government employment and collect both their annuities and their salaries, an authority that rarely is used.

In addition, the proposal envisions that the Office of Personnel Management would issue implementing rules to cover detailed considerations in areas such as survivor benefits, disability and numerous other special considerations related to retirement benefits. That process, which involves notices, opportunities for public comment and renewed review, could take a number of months or even several years until finalization, given the pace at which rule-making commonly proceeds.