Keep Searching for Agency's Pot of Buyout Gold

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Causey, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For many longtime federal workers, the pot of gold at the end of the bureaucratic rainbow is a VSIP.

The Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment means "buyout." It's when Uncle Sam agrees to pay civil servants $25,000, before deductions, to take regular or early retirement.

During the 1990s, more than 100,000 workers mostly retirement-age men in the Defense Department took VSIPs. After federal and state taxes and deductions, these payments were worth $16,000 to $18,000.

Reasons to offer buyouts have expanded, but the number has declined. When first offered, they were limited to Defense agencies and could be used only if the agency was undergoing a reorganization that otherwise could lead to layoffs.

Buyouts now can be offered in cases of downsizing, reorganizing, restructuring or outsourcing. At one time, they tended to be agency- or departmentwide. Now they often are targeted to specific bureaus, grade levels and occupations or geographic regions.

Because buyouts are so specialized and often limited, it is hard to track them. Just how narrow and specific are they? Consider this: The Agriculture Department, a giant agency, is offering buyouts to human resources people in its Forest Service through the end of this year. That is specific and limited.

The Energy Department is offering buyouts through Sept. 30 to environment, safety and health components in the District and Germantown. Energy does have an ongoing agencywide buyout, but it's only for the Fossil Energy component. A buyout for Energy's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence ends this month.

No matter how narrow the buyouts, hope springs eternal for feds who track them. Given the fact that most agencies are operating with the same funds they had last year, there is always a chance that the buyouts will be expanded. …