For at least 15 years, federal pundits have been predicting — and federal workforce experts have been planning for — a retirement wave, a deluge of retirement papers from the thousands of employees who are eligible to leave government. “Certainly,” the conventional wisdom went, “after federal workers have been furloughed, sequestered, and had their benefits cut, they’ll leave in droves.” The conventional wisdom was wrong.
Year after year, January is the month in which the Office of Personnel Management receives the most applications for retirement. In January 2014, after the shutdown and sequestration, OPM projected 19,000 employees would file retirement papers. Instead, only 17,383 employees did so. Surely, after budget games on Capitol Hill continued into fiscal 2015, and a December “cromnibus” bill pushed the Homeland Security Department into shutdown mode, employees would be fed up and move out, right? Wrong. OPM again projected 19,000 departures in January 2015; and again it overestimated, when only 18,629. OPM received 101,568 retirement claims in all of 2014, a number slightly higher than several of the previous years. But out of a federal workforce of more than 2 million people, 5 percent hardly sounds like a wave. So have federal leaders been planning for the wrong thing by planning for a retirement wave all these years?
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