Federal Employees News Digest

To retire or resign

What’s the difference between retiring and resigning? Well, a lot if the person who is resigning/retiring is you.

If you leave your government job after 42 years of service are you resigning or retiring?  If you resign from the Foreign Service after 30 years of service and after being passed over for promotion several times aren’t you really being forcibly retired?  You can tell friends, family, even the media, that you are resigning in protest.  But are you really?

Technically, if you are eligible for an annuity, especially after many years of service, you are retiring.  You will get a pension, fully or partially protected from inflation, for life.  Life-plus if you make your spouse your beneficiary and they get a survivor benefit long after your death.

You may also be quitting because you are sick of work, hate your boss or coworkers, or just can’t take a.m. and p.m. rush hour conditions any more. But in the eyes of Uncle Sam you are retiring.

I ask because many of the stories coming out of Washington— about the Trump Effect on the federal government—seem to be stretching things to make a point.  The point they are making, or attempting to make, is that many, maybe even most, federal workers have been in shock since you-know-who-was elected and actually took office.

Recently one news story told of an unnamed EPA worker who was resigning in protest of the administration’s policies and refusal to accept climate change.   But the person cited as resigning in anger and depression had 37 years at the agency, as is, eligible for an immediate annuity.

Many in the media predicted that federal workers would retire and/or quit in droves either after the election or definitely after the Inauguration last January. But in most months since November 2016, the quit rate—either because of resignations or retirements—is actually down.  In 2012, there were just over 68,000 retirements from the government. In 2014, it was just over 67,000.  In 2016, the number was 63,000. And through June of 2017 the number was 45,000 thousand and change. Pretty steady even though the federal workforce is aging rapidly because of reduced hiring in recent years and the fact that more people are simply working longer.

It stands to reason that retirements should jump. But so far they haven’t.

Most people are probably staying for reasons other than politics. During the Great Recession the retirement/quit rate dropped as it always does during hard to shaky economic times.  Folks at my then office took a 5 percent pay cut. That lasted for almost two years.  Two years ago the company dropped its retirement plan.  Now, workers must finance their own via a 401k plan and Social Security.  Many other companies followed suit and no longer offer a defined benefit plan.

I know of other people in the news business who took a 10 percent cut.  At another small publication the staff took a 25 percent pay cut.  During that same period federal pay remained steady.  Federal retirees continued to get cost of living adjustments worth 3.3 percent; 2.3 percent and 5.8 percent.  Once the stock market started to rebound—long before Donald Trump—many people who had stuck with the C, S and particularly the high-risk, high-reward international stock I-fund found they were closing in on the millionaires club.  I-fund shares which had floundered for years (and were deeply discounted) rose 25 percent in 2017.

It is typical, for both die-hard conservatives and die-hard liberals, to attach political motives to various actions. Even the weather has been politicized—by both sides.  But as Sigmund Freud supposedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  Sometimes a resignation is really a retirement. Period.

Backers of the president might argue that federal retirements are down because people love the president.  Maybe. Maybe not. That is no sillier, when you think about it, then reporting that people are leaving en masse.  Or that people who are actually retiring, after long service, are resigning in protest.

There is lots of so-called fake news out there. But it is nothing new.  Been around since the founding of the republic.  Ask Thomas Jefferson.  Or Grover Cleveland.  The big difference, and it is a big difference, is the speed with which news, real and faked, moves.  A tweet can go around the world very quickly.

So those of us who like to inform or be informed should keep an open mind, regardless of our politics. The so-called Confirmation Bias germ is out there and it is highly contagious.

Why do I say this? To quote basketball great Charles Barkley, “I may be wrong, but I doubt It!” 

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above


Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

Free E-Newsletter


I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.

Stay Connected

Latest Forum Posts

Ask the Expert

Have a question regarding your federal employee benefits or retirement?

Submit a question