The problem with early retirement Md.'s dilemma: Loss of institutional memory and skills could affect quality of service.

August 28, 1996

BY LATE SATURDAY, some 2,600 state workers are expected to have signed up for an early-retirement package approved by the General Assembly in the spring. The idea is to save money, but an unintended result could be a dilution in the quality of services at state agencies.

Take, for instance, the General Assembly's own support operation. The two mainstays of those offices, William S. Ratchford and F. Carvel Payne, are taking the early-retirement offer, leaving a yawning knowledge gap that will be difficult to fill. Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein is losing a senior aide, George H. Spriggs -- one of the few people who predates the comptroller in the office -- as well as some 70 others. And the state's top mass-transit official, John A. Agro Jr., surprised most people by taking advantage of the "early-out" package, although he's only 50.

Legislative leaders hope to save $25 million in the current budget and $56 million in next year's budget with these departures. Under the law, 60 percent of the vacancies must remain unfilled. That's where the big savings come in. The losses in the General Assembly's support operation already have triggered a planned reorganization that will consolidate all activities under a single executive director. That could eventually save some money, too.

Yet along with the monetary savings could come unexpected problems. A giant chunk of the state's institutional memory is about to walk out the door. Some of the state's most competent workers are leaving. On the surface it might seem a simple matter to name replacements, but you can't always find that same level of expertise.

Early-retirement schemes are two-edged swords. They help cut the budget but also cut out some of the most effective public servants. The enticements of the state's package made it financially difficult for many of these workers to turn down this one-time offer.

Some 7,500 state employees were eligible for this plan. Many of them are now agonizing over the offer. It could be a hard financial decision to make. State government will benefit in shrinking its work force without going through the trauma of firing people. But how will these agencies compensate for all the experienced hands that will no longer be on the job?

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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