Monday, November 21, 2005

Federal Brain Drain

From the Partnership for Public Service:

The loss of experienced personnel is one of the surest ways to undercut an organization's effectiveness. When this loss occurs rapidly and is concentrated in critical positions, the results can be devastating. The departure of top-level employees at the Federal Emergency Management Agency is often cited as a key reason it struggled to respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina. Similar brain drains are likely to occur across government as 44 percent of all federal workers become eligible to retire over the next five years, with 61 percent reaching eligibility four years later.

Large-scale turnover. The federal government is particularly vulnerable to the coming baby boomer retirements. While the average age of the American worker has increased over the past decade, the federal civil service has twice as many workers over age 45 (60 percent) as the private sector (31 percent). According to U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) estimates, among all full-time permanent employees in the federal workforce as of October 2004, 58 percent of supervisory and 42 percent of non-supervisory workers will be eligible to retire by the end of FY 2010. In addition to these retirements, well over 200,000 federal employees are expected to resign over the next five years, resulting in a potential loss of nearly 900,000 workers.

Loss of key employees. The impact on government effectiveness will be compounded by the concentration of turnover in high-level and hard-to-staff positions with specialized skills:
  • 40 percent of Department of Homeland Security managers and program analysts will reach retirement eligibility by 2009.

  • 42 percent of the Senior Executive Service is projected to retire by 2010.

  • 87 percent of claims assistants and examiners in the Social Security Administration and 94 percent of their administrative law judges will reach retirement eligibility by 2010.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic controller attrition rates are estimated to triple by 2012.
The references to FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are particularly worrisome.

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dearieme said...

I know many foreigners who admire the US: by-and-large, I do myself. I've never met anyone who admires you for your civil service though. Surely you can take some consolation from that?

Anonymous said...

This happened to NASA and it lead to a lot of blown missions till the new guys learned the lessions the old guys had learned. The gov does not have a system of training replacements for critical positions. It is hit or miss. It will be an interesting decade as the boomers pass their "use by dates".
Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

the fed govt will be okay. life will go on.

businesses such as GM may have brain drain.

Arun Khanna said...

Losing key employees is tough for any organization. However, given the number of government employees projected to retire this is more of an opportunity than a threat. An economic opportunity for a smaller government.

Anonymous said...

the fed govt has a monopoly, although globalization may make this less so.

companies or entities that face competition have more to lose through attrition.

Kent said...

We're certainly seeing this in the Department of Energy, where the critical job skills are exceptionally specialized and difficult to replace.

Three years of LANL being kicked around by a football, culminating in the current contract competition, has driven away a lot of the best physicists and nuclear weapons designers.

There are organized efforts to pass along the expert knowledge of the retirees, but the thought that the reliability of the nuclear deterrent will soon rest in the hands of folks who have never actually designed, tested, and fielded a weapon is unsettling. It's not as if the deterrent is no longer needed, though an amazing number of folks want to pretend otherwise.