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17,000 Civilian Army and Air Froce Workers Will Be Offered Buyouts

By Mike Causey
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Nearly 17,000 Army and Air Force civilians will be offered cash buyouts within the next 60 days. The lump-sum payments, which the Pentagon hopes will induce the workers to retire early or quit, will be worth up to $25,000. Similar cash-to-retire offers will be made to Navy civilians during the next few years.

The Defense Department has about 45 percent of the total federal work force and is the only agency now authorized to buy out employees.

Defense officials said the first big batch of buyouts was approved Friday. Many more are coming.

The largest batch of early-out and buyout offers so far is 9,385 authorized for civilians in the Air Force Materiel Command. Offers will also go to 6,531 civilians in the Army Materiel Command, 353 in the Defense Intelligence Agency, 180 with the U.S. Army Europe, 100 in the Office of Dependent Schools and 22 civilian technicians with the Connecticut National Guard.

To get immediate, unreduced benefits under regular civil service rules, retirees must be age 55 with 30 years of service; 60 with 20 years of service or 62 with 5 years. Pensions are based on length of service and the employees' high-three-year average salary.

During early-outs, employees may retire at any age if they have 25 or more years service, or at age 50, with 20 years of service. Pensions are reduced 2 percent for each year the employee is under 55.

Officials hope the cash payments -- equal to the employees' severance or $25,000, whichever is less -- will induce many to leave. Payments could also go to selected workers who quit.

Every employee who quits or retires voluntarily is one less worker who Defense will have to fire as it cuts employment during the next several years. Employees with the least amount of service and non-veterans are the first fired during reductions in force (RIFs).

Buyout offers are coming for thousands of civilians in Navy aviation depots and shipyards. And there will be more for Army, Air Force and other Defense units.

In a major policy reversal, Defense is prepared to offer a limited number of buyouts to selected employees at bases that are being closed. Originally, the department said only employees at bases that were being kept open would get buyouts, which could open up some jobs for displaced civilians.

Officials now say they will consider buyouts for some employees in bases that are about to close to help thin the ranks.

Workers may decline offers of buyout or early retirement, and employees cannot take them unless they are offered. Those who reject buyouts run the risk of being fired or demoted during RIFs. They would still be eligible for severance pay, but would get the payments on a biweekly or monthly basis, instead of in a lump sum.