Civilian employees urged to conside early retirement, voluntary separation

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 14, 2014 

Friday was the deadline for 900 civilians employees at Fort Benning to consider early retirement or voluntary separation to avoid possible layoffs later this year, a post official said.

Training loads at the post were reduced 16 percent this fiscal year to 70,857 soldiers and are expected to drop slightly more to 69,277 for fiscal year 2015. Civilian employees of the Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees training at the Armor and Infantry schools, were given the opportunity to apply for Voluntary Early Retirement Authority or Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay to avoid possible layoffs later this year.

"Everybody's situation is going to be different," said Gary Jones, director of public affairs for the Maneuver Center of Excellence. "We really don't know who is going to be interested and who is not. We would certainly like to get down to a reduced size of the workforce that we have to get to through voluntary attrition as opposed to involuntary."

Jones noted the post still doesn't know what the staff reductions will be for Fort Benning.

"We should be hearing something soon," he said. "We don't know yet. What we are trying to do is make it voluntary for those that do end up going."

Employees were told about the voluntary separation options during a town hall meeting in January. There could be one or more rounds of opportunities for employees to leave early to handle the anticipated downsizing before the fiscal 2015 budget goes into effect in October.

Those employees who express an interest to leave their job -- and the offer is accepted by post management -- have until June 3 to be removed off the payroll.

"It's not a done deal until they actually work through the process, because some employees think they are going to be eligible based on length of service and based on their calculations," Jones said. "But they never know what the real calculations are until they get with the Army benefits center who is not local."

The separation date was selected so officials could determine where the post stands in staffing. "The reason we picked June is we have to be able to do the math to see where we stand," Jones said.

Some employees may not be interested in retirement but would consider voluntary separation. Under the voluntary separation, an employee would leave a job for incentive money. Jones said an employee may have been thinking of starting a business and take the incentive pay to jump start it.

Civilian employees in other commands also were given similar options at the sixth largest post in the nation. They include the Installation Management Command, the Army Materiel Command and the Army Medical Command.

After an employee's service and benefits have been verified, the worker's last stop is at the personnel office for counseling and to ensure the employee wants to leave. "Once they sign it, that is final," Jones said.

Ozia Scott, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 54 representing 2,900 workers, said Friday that he's aware of some employees receiving letters but he wasn't among that group. Scott works in post security, which is part of the Installation Management Command.

"I was aware that some employees did get some letters, but who exactly got them, no one came to me," he said. "That is all I know."

Jones said it's unknown how many employees will take advantage of the opportunity. "It's open to everyone," he said. "It's not coerced or mandatory for anyone."

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