WASHINGTON -- It's been a worry for many years: What happens when older federal workers retire and take decades of institutional knowledge with them?
"The last thing any manager or any organization or company wants is for folks that are ready to retire to just walk out the door," said Kenneth J. Zawodny, Jr., associate director of retirement services at the federal Office of Personnel Management.
With the aging of the work force, the challenge has become urgent. More than 40 percent of federal employees in 2010 were 50 or older.
Now a new law aims to prevent this brain drain. Under legislation signed last month by President Obama, federal workers will be able to phase into retirement -- working part time while drawing a partial pension.
One of the key conditions: Phased retirees must spend at least 20 percent of their time mentoring other employees. In other words, they must help their agency prepare for the future.
Mr. Zawodny expects that phased retirement could be available within a year. The Office of Personnel Management is drawing up the regulations.
To qualify, a federal employee must have worked at least three years full time and be eligible for retirement. That means the earliest age at which anyone could take phased retirement would be 55.
It will be up to each agency whether to adopt phased retirement based on its needs. An agency might offer phased retirement only to employees working on certain projects or choose to make it available to anyone eligible. Or an employer might not offer it at all.
Initially, phased retirees will work half time, receiving half their salary and half their pension.
The law allows the rules to be changed so phased retirees could work 20 percent to 80 percent of a full schedule. Pension payments will be adjusted according to the amount of time worked.
For instance, phased retirees working one day a week would receive 80 percent of their annuities; those putting in a four-day work week would get 20 percent.