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Friday, January 7, 2011

Double-Dippers "R" Us

Two high-profile local double-dippers have generated lots of buzz and heat about collecting retirement while earning a second salary--in one case for the same job, no less.  In an editorial with the sarcastic title "Thanks, Voters," the local paper chastised the county sheriff and suggested that his behavior was, in the end, no surprise, presumably because he was a politician--"Sure enough, within a week of winning election to an unprecedented fifth term, Walsh filed his retirement papers."  (And this after just endorsing him over two challengers for that fifth term.)  With the citizens sufficiently ginned up, angry letters to the editor poured in. 

Now it turns out that the deputy mayor did not get the necessary approval from the state to earn a full salary while on retirement from the fire department.

Granted, both of these cases are problematic, and the context for much of the anger is of course the difficult economy. 

But it bears noting that the country is awash in people who have put in their 20 years in the public sector and then used that experience to jump-start a second career in the private and non-profit sectors, or in other public sector jobs--while still enjoying their "retirements".  Perhaps the single biggest pool of these folks is the former military, especially retired officers.  Washington is chock-full of consultants, analysts, and managers from these ranks.  Private contract defense analysis is in large part an extension of the military retirement program.  And for some folks, not making full colonel was the best thing that ever happened to them financially.

Is this system right?  I think the central question here is whether the shorter time to full retirement is fair.  A lot of these jobs are high-stress, some are quite dangerous, and a lot of people in these jobs probably could have made more money in the private sector.  On the other hand, those contributing significant chunks of their income to defined contribution (versus benefit) plans, and waiting until 67 or beyond to even think about anything we would recognize as "retirement," have some reason to be miffed.


Anonymous said...

This, in my opion, is clearly a problem with the "system". The difference, as I see it, is when someone spends 20 years in the military, for instance, and retires, that person may choose to follow into a lateral job in the private sector, or even for the government for that matter. In this situation here, unless I'm missing something, the Sheriff is retiring and colllecting a pention from the same job he will currently hold. This is double dipping on another level. That having been said, I believe what really incensed people was the manner in which this was addressed when it became public, with the whole "the question was unasked" business. Things like this are why the general public has such a negative vibe towards politicians in general. In the end, this system will never be changed, as those in the position to change it have a pretty sweet deal going.

Grant Reeher said...

Anonymous, Thanks for your comments. You make some good points, I think. To my mind, the two instances are different, and also not different. What's not different is that they both involve receiving a full retirement for a given term of service, and then continuing to work and draw a full salary for a second job--which is why I think the core policy issue here is whether we need to rethink the retirement systems of some government employees (as you pointed out too). The difference is the one you identified--that in the sheriff's case it's the same job being done, after "retirement." That certainly makes it feel different as we look at it. I also agree that the sheriff's response invited criticism, but I think that a better reasoned--and more civically responsible--critique of this than what we found in the paper's own editorial was provided by Tom Buckel in a guest editorial on Jan. 3. The paper seems to have renewed its mission to beat up on politicians and government--and if this goes too far it hurts our civic life. My specific concern is the way the arguments and stories are framed and the way adjectives are used. That post is for another day... Finally, let me just add that I think you have good things to say, and I'd invite you to "decloak" yourself in future comments, if you're comfortable with that.