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Voluntary RIF Tops New Civilian Drawdown Options

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 3, 1996 – Defense civilians looking for a way to leave their jobs can now volunteer to replace other civilians facing forced exits.

The action is the latest in a series of DoD initiatives Congress authorized to make the department's civilian drawdown easier. The change comes at a point in the drawdown -- three-quarters finished -- when "the cutting becomes more painful," said Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. "The easy cuts have already been made."

Under the new Voluntary Reduction in Force program, only the civil service work force can volunteer and only during a RIF, Disney said. Volunteers for the RIF will be treated as if they were involuntarily separated, she said. Also, service components may turn down volunteers with critical skills.

The program will continue through Sept. 30. Other conditions of the voluntary RIF: Generally, both employees must be located in the same commuting area, participants must do the same kind of work, and the action may not result in a promotion. Local civilian personnel offices can provide more details.

"This separation option will help minimize the trauma of downsizing," Disney said. "The person who really wants to stay, can. And the one who is ready to leave can do that. The result, then, is two people who are happier than they otherwise would have been."

By Sept. 30, 2001, DoD will complete a 35 percent reduction of its civilian work force, from some 1.12 million in 1989 to a level of approximately 729,000 employees. DoDs transition programs, Disney said, reduce forced separations. In fact, fewer than 9 percent of the 288,000 positions eliminated in the last 6.5 years came from layoffs, she said.

Among the more popular options employees have is the Priority Placement Program, Disney noted. In the last 31 years, she said, the program found new jobs for more than 136,000 displaced DoD civilians. Now, with base closures and downsizing, DoD makes some 900 priority placements per month.

Many program registrants want to stay where they are, according to Ellen Tunstall, chief of DoD's Civilian Assistance and Re-employment Division in Arlington, Va. However, she added, the broader the area an employee is willing to consider, the greater the opportunity for placement.

How happy are managers with employees they hire under the program? "We have surveyed managers for a number of years," Disney said. "Consistently more than 95 percent say they are highly satisfied with the people they've gotten from the Priority Placement Program -- and that these employees are better qualified than what they would have gotten otherwise."

Finding new jobs for people at base realignment and closure sites got a boost last year under a new "bounty" program that reimburses nonfederal employers who hire displaced DoD civilians. The incentive pays employers up to $10,000 to retrain or relocate a DoD employee, provided the person is kept on the payroll at least one year, Disney explained.

"By that time, the person has proven his or her value and is fully equipped to do the new job," she said. "The transition is over and we've made a successful change."

Displaced workers looking for new jobs can get additional help, Tunstall said. For example, the Defense Outplacement Referral System sends their resumes to prospective private sector employers. To date, some 18,000 civilian employees have used the service. In addition, almost every DoD installation offers transition assistance programs that civilians can use, she said, including counseling services.

Some people getting RIF notices don't want new jobs. For them, Disney said, lump-sum severance pay is another new option.

Normally, severed employees receive up to one year's salary at the rate of one week's pay for each of the first 10 years of service and two weeks' pay for each year thereafter, plus an additional amount if they're over age 40. Payments are biweekly, Tunstall explained. This year, Congress gave DoD the opportunity to let employees choose a lump-sum payment instead of biweekly checks. Specific information on this new program will be released soon, she said.

DoD civilians who receive RIF notices can continue their federal health insurance for up to 18 months after separation. All they have to do is pay their portion of the policy, and the government pays the rest.

In the past, the health benefits provision required employees to stay on the federal payroll until they actually received a RIF notice, Disney said. "Now," she added, "a person who knows he's surplus can leave earlier and still get the health benefit."

It's important workers check with their local personnel offices for details of any of these options, Tunstall said. "For example, some BRAC bases may offer buyouts early on and some not at all, and some will conduct one RIF at the end of the closure cycle, while others conduct multiple RIFs.

"How options are administered depends on the local mission and what management, in cooperation with the labor groups and employees, works out."

Tunstall said the range of transition options should answer the needs and desires of most people affected by the drawdown. Disney concurred, saying she's deeply concerned about the welfare of all civilian employees.

"We care about our employees," she said, "and will help them get through this downsizing as smoothly as possible."

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