WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, was joined by several of his colleagues in the introduction of three bills to make it easier for older Americans to either reenter or remain in the workforce. In conjunction with their introduction, Kohl released the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the federal government's efforts to hire and retain older workers, and what policy changes would help them do it better. Over the next five years, more than half a million permanent full-time federal employees-or about one-third of the full-time federal workforce-will be eligible to retire. In ten years, more than 60 percent of the federal workforce will be retirement-eligible. 
"The state of our economy has millions of older Americans considering all their options. For a lot of them, the downturn will mean working longer," said Chairman Kohl. "These policies provide commonsense incentives and simple fixes to make it easier for those who want to keep working past retirement age."
To conduct the study, GAO reviewed three federal agencies that have large proportions of employees nearing retirement, and found that each relies on older workers in different ways, whether in the training of newly hired staff or as short-term contractors. The study also drew upon the most promising practices within other agencies for relying on older workers. In the report, GAO recommends that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) facilitate the communication and broad dissemination of the most successful strategies that have been employed throughout the government, so that more agencies can institute them.
Tomorrow, Chairman Kohl will hold a hearing to examine how the poor economy is affecting those nearing retirement. The hearing, entitled "Boomer Bust? Securing Retirement in a Volatile Economy," will feature testimony on the labor market for older workers, the challenges they face, and the need of many older Americans to continue working.
The legislation being introduced this week includes the following:
  • The Older Worker Opportunity Act of 2009, sponsored by Senators Kohl and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Many older workers seek workplace flexibility in order to pursue hobbies or visit the grandkids, and many need flexibility to care for a loved one. This bill would diminish the barriers to part-time work for older workers, such as loss of health coverage and decreased pension benefits, by providing a tax credit for employers that employ older workers (age 62+) in flexible work programs. The credit equals 25 percent of an older worker's wages, and expires after 2012. To be eligible, employers must (1) provide a qualified pension plan and (2) provide health insurance coverage and pay at least 60 percent of its cost. A "flexible work program" provides a full- or part- time flexible work schedule and full pension and health care benefits. This arrangement must be available to an older worker for at least one year and must be widely available to rank and file employees.
  • A bill to make it easier to rehire federal annuitants, sponsored by Senators Kohl and Susan Collins (R-ME).
This bill would allow the federal government to rehire federal retirees part-time, without forcing the employee to reduce their salary by their pension amount, as under current law. While the individuals would receive both salary and annuity payments, they would not be considered employees for the purposes of retirement and would receive no additional retirement benefits based on their service. 
  • A bill to allow phased retirement for federal employees under the CSRS, sponsored by Senators Kohl and George Voinovich (R-OH).
This legislation would change the computation of Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuities involving part-time service by correcting an anomaly that creates a disincentive for employees nearing the end of their careers who would like to phase into retirement by working part-time.  Specifically, the legislation would clarify that CSRS annuities, based in whole or in part on part-time service, should be pro-rated for the period of service that was performed on a part-time basis.  The correction allows agencies, as part of their succession planning efforts, to retain the expertise of senior staff who wish to work on a part-time basis at the end of their federal careers.
Last month, Kohl and Durbin reintroduced the Health Care and Training for Older Workers Act of 2009 (S. 281), which would extend COBRA health insurance from the time of retirement (ages 62 and up) until seniors become eligible for Medicare at age 65.  The bill also improves access for seniors to federally-funded job training programs. Finally, the bill would establish through the Department of Labor a clearinghouse of best practices in the private and public sectors for hiring and retaining older workers, as suggested by the GAO's report on the Comptroller General's Forum on Engaging and Retaining Older Workers, released in February 2007.
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To access the GAO study, click herehttp://aging.senate.gov/letters/gaoolderfederalworkersstudy.pdf

For more information on the Aging Committee's April 2008 hearing on the federal government's efforts to hire and retain older workers , click here http://aging.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=297184