Deposit Insurance Corp. Thursday announced a buyout program it hopes will entice 500 employees to leave. With banks and thrifts healthy and profitable, FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer said, there simply isn't enough for all the agency's workers to do. The agency is also under pressure from bankers to reduce both costs and premiums on deposit insurance. Layoffs - known in government parlance as a reduction-in-force, or RIF - are in the offing in 1997, said Dennis Geer, the FDIC's chief operating officer. The goal is to bring FDIC staff size, which peaked at 15,611 in mid- 1993, down to 7,000. Mr. Geer said the voluntary buyouts will reduce the inevitable "disruption and inefficiency" of layoffs. The agency now has 7,456 permanent staffers, who will be joined Jan. 1 by 986 employees of the Resolution Trust Corp. - bringing the total to 8,442. There are also 3,262 temporary employees at the FDIC and 2,959 at the RTC, all of whose contracts are to expire by the end of next year. The buyout - which amounts to half a year's pay, plus six months of health insurance - is being offered to 5,000 employees in executive, professional and Washington support staff positions at the FDIC and RTC. Mr. Geer said he expects about 500 to take him up on it. In a memo to FDIC staffers, Ms. Helfer said the buyout was an attempt to both "meet our fiduciary obligations" and "be fair and humane to all of you, our FDIC colleagues." Mr. Geer offered other justifications. "The disruption and inefficiency of a RIF is disastrous," he said. Cutting staff by 500 with a buyout will cost the agency about $23.4 million, Mr. Geer said; a reduction-in-force of identical size would cost $27.9 million in severance pay. In all, doing buyouts now in place of layoffs later will save the FDIC a projected $64.4 million. Buyouts have often been criticized for robbing organizations of entrepreneurial, ambitious workers. But a reduction-in-force is worse, Mr. Geer said, because it pushes out younger employees who haven't built up seniority. Top agency executives are hoping that older employees will use the buyout to take early retirement. "It helps us, hopefully, keep some of the youngest and brightest people who are moving up in the ranks," Mr. Geer said. In any case, a reduction-in-force is out of the question until 1997. Congress mandated that permanent RTC staffers who come over to the FDIC can't be laid off until then, and the FDIC board decided it was only fair to extend that protection to all permanent FDIC employees.

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