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News Release

Thursday, September 23, 2004
Contact: Michael Orenstein
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Official Testifies Before Senate Special Committee on Aging Over Mandatory Retirement Requirements for Air Traffic Controllers

Washington, D.C. -- An executive with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently told Congress the Bush Administration must balance public safety with the need to keep experienced employees in the debate over laws governing age-based, mandatory retirements of federal employees in public-safety jobs.

During a Senate hearing that focused on the airline industry, with its more than 22,000 federal air traffic controllers, Abby Block, Deputy Associate Director, said OPM has not adopted an official position on whether to scrap or adjust mandatory retirement laws. However, she cautioned that a mandatory retirement age that works well for people in one occupation may not work as well in another. She added that agencies run the risk of losing experienced and valuable employees who are forced to retire.

"Mandatory retirement should take into account any unique requirements associated with the duties of any given occupation, or even select groups within an occupation, while also preventing the imposition of overly restrictive hiring barriers or forced retirements that unnecessarily constrain staffing options," said Block. "For example, setting too low a mandatory retirement age for an occupation may result in the premature loss of an organization's most experienced personnel."

Testifying before Larry Craig (ID), chair of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, Block noted OPM Director Kay Coles James in August sent to Congress a report on the law enforcement occupation that included a section on mandatory retirement.

In addition to air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers, mandatory retirement laws affect federal employees who work as fire fighters and nuclear materials couriers.

By federal law, 56 is the mandatory retirement age for the nation's air traffic controllers. With shortened careers the norm for these employees -- the average retirement age for federal workers is in the low 60s -- the retirement system for air traffic controllers has been adjusted to provide full benefits.

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