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Government-Forced Retirement at 57?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

These words of Thomas Jefferson's are etched under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Imagine if Jefferson had finished that thought with these words: "Unless, of course, you're 57 years old and a U.S. federal law enforcement officer."


In the beginning of our republic, our Founding Fathers fought for freedom from governing tyranny, including for those who worked in government. And if a man's work ethic, health and passions allowed him to labor until his dying breath, he did so, even in government.

Today, however, with more government regulations than sand in the sea, those in Washington believe they are socialistic clairvoyants and use the nanny state to determine when citizens are expendable and ready to retire.

Case in point: federal law enforcement officers, who must retire at the end of the month they turn 57. I've known great military personnel and former local community officers, many of whom have been dear friends, who have also served our country as federal law enforcement officers -- for example, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents. But when they hit 57 -- even if they were at a zenith of performance in mind, body and soul with many potential contributing years ahead -- they were forced to retire because of a law that is ridiculous and even hurting our country as a universal mandate, often removing from duty and service the best of the best among patriotic servants.

Here's the way one special provision in U.S. law reads:


"A member of the Capitol Police who is otherwise eligible for immediate retirement under section 8336(m) shall be separated from the service on the last day of the month in which such member becomes 57 years of age or completes 20 years of service if then over that age."

There are very few exceptions to this rule, including this one: "The President, by Executive order, may exempt an employee (other than a member of the Capitol Police or the Supreme Court Police) from automatic separation under this section when he determines the public interest so requires."

What a shock. More excuses for presidential overreach and executive orders!

Mandatory retirement is typically justified on the grounds that particular occupations either are too dangerous or require significant levels of physical and mental skill. But what about when officers easily meet those requirements?

I'm not espousing everyone's working until death or no one's retiring early. Some people live for retirement. Some people run for it. But should it be mandated for all -- especially by the government -- if one is genuinely full of vitality, stamina and health and is willing and able to use his veteran experience to serve our country and help others?


I'm certainly not saying we should place our country in any form of jeopardy by posting officers who have fallen prey to human nature and aging. I'm just questioning the notion that everyone at 57 has done so. Many would say we are placing our country in further harm's way by forcing these veterans into retirement.

Equally damaging are laws for these individuals that place maximum mandates on entry ages, such as this federal law for law enforcement officers and criminal investigators: "Applicants must be at least 21 years of age and less than 37 years of age at the time of appointment."

Imagine how this narrow 16-year age window must exclude highly qualified individuals, including many older applicants who could bring their veteran experience to a national level, such as former local and state officers.

And what about anti-age-discrimination laws already on the U.S. books? Even Wikipedia cites previous contradictory code, such as this from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's website:

"The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training."


And this is the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations discussing the ADEA:

"The exception does not authorize an employer to require or permit involuntary retirement of an employee within the protected age group on account of age. ... An employer can no longer force retirement or otherwise discriminate on the basis of age against an individual because (s)he is 70 or older."

Isn't it time for the government to begin to pull away from restricting the liberties and wisdom of the best servants in our society? Or will we forever remain the land of the free and the home of the brave while restricting more and more liberties, even for the veterans among us?

Myriad government officials profess to fight against profiling, but who is guilty when Washington judges all 57-year-olds as too old to think, react and contribute to their country?

I urge my fellow citizens to write their representatives and seek to revoke overarching and universal mandates forcing retirement for each and every last federal law enforcement officer, from Capitol police to border agents. It's time we eliminate inequitable, discriminatory laws that are counterproductive and weakening our nation's law enforcement community and defense.

As former ICE Special Agent Tom Coburn, who was forced to retire at 57, wrote me, "as our nation attempts to stop terrorist attacks, strengthen our borders, and combat sophisticated medical and financial frauds, America needs to be able to hire the best applicants for the job regardless of their age."


And, Tom, I would add: America needs to be able to keep many great warriors like you around, too.

It's time for us all -- and particularly those in Washington -- to recall the conventional wisdom of Mark Twain, who once said: "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

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