Posted on Friday, 2nd February 2024 by

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A Federal Employee’s Dilemma

Is the grass greener on the other side? Humm, maybe, depending on the circumstances, yes and no!  If you’re referring to Ireland, yes, their grass is literally greener than most. When it comes to a career change proceed with caution, especially when considering federal employment’s exceptional pay and benefits.

In my late forties, I needed a change after spending 10 years in the same position. Early outs were on the table, and I considered applying. Thankfully, I stayed the course and transferred to another position within the same agency that was a good fit for me and my fellow workers.

What Was I Thinking

At first glance it was a no brainer to take an early out, I had a profitable part time business up and running, and a place to hang my hat when I left. My wife reminded me of what we committed to when I was just 25 years old and at a crossroad in my career. An excerpt from my memoire The Early Years, A Road Less Traveled follows that succinctly represents why I stayed the course. At the time, I was working for the Department of Defense with the Air National Guard.

Where it All Started

“I found an announcement for a GS-856-7/11 electronics technician position with the FAA at Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania, 145 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The position offered a small pay increase initially. However, promotions were automatic to the GS-11 grade as long as the applicant passed their training program and obtained the required equipment certifications. The GS-11 pay was considerably higher than what I was making with the Air National Guard. It would take me two years to reach the GS-11 grade or longer, depending on school availability. There was a significant risk, if I failed the schools I would be terminated!

That same week, I visited the USAir hangar at the airport and talked with their personnel office. I was at a fork in the road. At the Pittsburgh airport, the road to the left led to the FAA’s air-traffic control tower, while a right took you to USAir’s maintenance hangar.

If I worked for USAir, we wouldn’t have to move, their equipment was similar, and I’d been doing the same type of work for the past five years. The job with the FAA required a move and a considerable amount of training for new ground-based systems, but it had significant promotion potential and much higher pay after two years.

We agreed that the FAA was the best path for us, and I applied for the position in mid-September 1975. I already had five years of combined military and federal service, and if I stayed with the federal government, I could retire at age fifty-five with thirty-five years of service.”

True to our early commitment, I retired at age 55 with a generous annuity. Had I taken an early-out or moved to the private sector just 7 years earlier my annuity and benefits would have been greatly reduced.


I’m not saying a move to the private sector isn’t best for you and your particular circumstances. Leaving federal service, especially after devoting the majority of your work years to federal service, requires considerable forethought before proceeding. I wrote an article for Clearance Jobs titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Leaving the Federal Government for the Private Sector.

I state in the article, “If you are thinking about a move to the private sector, explore the opportunities and evaluate your federal retirement options. You may be able to take advantage of an immediate or deferred retirement.”

Opportunities are abundant in the private sector for highly skilled federal workers and annuitants that have the experience many companies and contractors seek out today. Sometimes their offers are hard if not impossible to resist and you never know what lies ahead unless you follow that path. If you take that path, go with your eyes open and research the impact and implications thoroughly.


Even though I stayed in federal service to full retirement, I understand why others would choose to leave and pursue an alternate path. Government, due to arduous and often times conflicting rules and regulations, can stymie creativity.

Successful government employees that find ways to make things work in this environment are the ones who succeed. It may be difficult but certainly not an impossible task. Another consideration is time in general.

If you are in your late 40s or early 50s with 20 to 25 plus years of service, your full retirement date isn’t that far down the road! If you leave federal service under these circumstances, ten years later you may question why you didn’t wait to make a move when you were in your high earning years at the time, and socking money away in your 401K and retirement fund!

Fortunately, Federal Employees that leave federal service may be eligible for an immediate or deferred retirement and able to retain or transfer their TSP retirement plan to an IRA or new employer’s plan.

If you are considering leaving federal service, I highly recommend you read and print a copy of Tammy Flanagan’s article titled “Planning a career change in 2024?.”  This comprehensive article provides a summary of the things you MUST know about your benefits if you are contemplating leaving federal service.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change.

The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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