Guam Hopes To Avoid ‘Brain Drain’ With Early Retirements

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Agency heads can refuse employee requests for early out

By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 30, 2012) – The last time the government of Guam encouraged its employees to retire early, in late 1999, agencies complained of a "brain drain" -- with experienced employees leaving, hampering agency operations.

Gov. Eddie Calvo proposed a similar early retirement program in order to save the line agencies between $15 million and $35 million a year, but there are differences to cope with the loss of experienced employees, according to his office.

In 1999, lawmakers gave employees two incentives to leave -- the early retirement incentive for long-time employees who were a few years away from retirement eligibility, and the "voluntary separation" incentive, in which less-seasoned employees were paid half a year's salary to leave GovGuam for at least three years.

The reason then was the same as now -- the government couldn't pay its bills.

In 2001, the Guam Police Department, which lost 70 police officers to early retirement and voluntary separation, told lawmakers it wanted to replace them, but the department was being funded for only 30.

The department that year cut back the hours of its identification card section, saying it lost most of the division's staff to early-out incentives.

In early 2000 several public schools didn't have a nurse after three nurses left because of early-out incentives.

In contrast, Guam Community College, which lost 26 employees to early retirement and 16 employees to voluntary separation, reported in 2001 that it was able to provide basic services despite the lost employees, and saved about $900,000 a year.

Valid concern

The possibility of causing another brain drain with the new early retirement proposal is a valid concern, according to governor's spokesman Troy Torres. But he said there are a couple of differences between the 1999 early retirement incentive and the governor's plan.

Under Calvo's proposal, agency directors would have the authority to deny early retirement requests "based on the operational integrity of each department," Torres said.

And the administration has been writing down agency information that in the past would have been lost when employees retired, Torres said.

The administration's "Process Improvement Team" has reviewed several agencies, Torres said, writing down policies and procedures that until now have been unwritten.

"A big part of the brain drain was the inability of those who took over the work left behind to understand what the previous incumbent did," Torres said. "This was because a lot of the policies and procedures were applied by the retiree's memory but never written down."

It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether to adopt the early retirement program, or any of Calvo's other proposed cost-cutting changes. They also can decide how any changes should be applied.

The administration plans to give lawmakers an omnibus spending reform bill, containing as much as $73 million in savings for the government's line agencies, mostly through changes to retirement policy.

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