Retirement & Financial Planning Report

The rate of federal retirements outside the U.S. Postal Service picked up in 2012, continuing a trend of increases since the rate fell off sharply during the worst of the recent recession, new OPM data show.

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This set of data is considered a more accurate picture of the potential "brain drain" of federal employees retiring as members of the baby boom generation reach eligibility combinations of years of service and age. Other data sets, in particular an often-reported indicator of monthly retirement applications received at OPM, can be misleading because they include the impact of retirements at the Postal Service, which has been aggressively using early retirement offers and buyout incentive payments to downsize due to its financial troubles.

The newest OPM data excluding postal retirements show 66,169 retirements in fiscal year 2012, which ended last September, up from 61,403 the prior year. That was the third straight year of increase over the 2009 rate of 43,649, which represented the lowest number since 2002.

In the intervening years, the numbers fell in the 50,000-60,000 range, meaning the 2012 number was above the rate of the pre-recession years, but not exceptionally so. In some cases, the 2012 retirements could reflect decisions to delay retirement due to the economic downturn by persons who otherwise would have retired in prior years.

The data also show that the overwhelming share of retirements are standard, voluntary retirements. Early retirements (again, excluding the Postal Service) accounted for only about 4,000, disability retirements about 3,100 and mandatory retirements abut 1,500.

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The figures also exclude the legislative and judicial branches and intelligence agencies.