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NTEU Calls for Phased Retirement Rule Improvements to Expand Participation

Tuesday, July 30 2013

Washington, D.C.—The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) today called on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to revise draft rules for an upcoming phased retirement program to ensure that as many federal workers as possible will be eligible.

“I encourage another review of the limitations on eligibility contained in the draft regulations,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley. “Under the draft rules, it appears that only employees with 20 or more years of federal service would be eligible. NTEU supports broadening eligibility.”

NTEU was a strong supporter of the phased retirement program, which was enacted into law in 2012. The union’s call for changes was made in response to OPM draft regulations; the comment period ends Aug. 5.

Among other recommendations and clarifications, NTEU strongly suggested establishment of a system by which an employee can appeal an adverse decision on eligibility. “The employee should have an avenue to challenge a decision that he or she cannot take part in the program,” Kelley said.

Some of the improvements sought by the union in the draft rules address the requirement that participating employees spend at least 20 percent of their working hours in mentoring activities, ideally mentoring an employee who would be expected to replace him or her; several clarifications of rules dealing with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP); payment of the Social Security annuity supplement for those under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS); participation in the government’s dental, vision and long term care insurance programs, as well as its flexible spending account program; potential circumstances generating overtime pay; and more.

On the mentoring requirement, for example, NTEU noted the government continues to shed jobs—some 65,000 in the last 12 months alone—and told OPM that “in cases where tight budgets prevent agencies from hiring new employees, it may not be practical for the phased retiree to mentor an individual to replace him or her.” The final regulations, NTEU recommended, should “allow agencies to waive the mentoring requirement when severe budgetary restrictions prevent an agency from hiring new employees.”

As for the FERS supplement, which makes up a significant portion of the expected retirement income for some FERS retirees, President Kelley noted that the OPM draft rules could result in far fewer FERS employees electing phased retirement.

“NTEU encourages OPM to consider revising the regulations to permit the payment of the annuity supplement in an effort to encourage additional employees to participate in the program and to delay the income restrictions on the supplement until full retirement or the onset of Social Security payments,” the union said in its comments.

Kelley predicted the program will be popular with employees nearing retirement. “I urge OPM to move as quickly as possible to make the program available,” the NTEU leader said.

NTEU is the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.

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