Nealry 600,000 federal employees will be eligible to retire by 2017. (Chris Maddaloni / Army Times)
The percentage of federal workers eligible to retire will roughly double by 2017, underscoring the need for agencies to prepare for the loss of experienced, high-level staff, Government Accountability Office reviewers conclude in a newly issued report.
As of September 2012, about 14 percent (nearly 270,000) of some 2 million permanent career federal workers could trade a paycheck for a pension, the report says. By September 2017, about 31 percent (almost 600,000) will be able to leave.
Replacing those who retire “could be problematic given the era of flat or declining budgets that the government is experiencing,” according to the report. However, if agencies are able to recruit new employees, the retirements would give them the opportunity to reshape their workforce in accordance with current and future mission needs.
While prior predictions of a federal “retirement tsunami” have fallen short, the GAO report notes that the retirement rate rebounded to 3.5 percent in 2012, up from 2.5 percent in 2009. While the actual number of retirements hinges on a variety of factors, poorly managed turnover can lead to knowledge and leadership gaps, the report says.
As Federal Times has previously reported, some agencies are more vulnerable to an exodus, the GAO finds. By 2017, more than 42 percent of employees on board at the Housing and Urban Development Department and Small Business Administration as of September 2012 will be eligible to leave, compared to 21 percent at the Department of Homeland Security.
The report, which examines recent federal employment trends, also found the size of the permanent career workforce rose 14 percent from 2004 to 2012 to 2.13 million, with almost all of the growth occurring within DHS, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department.
During that time, DoD added about 105,000 employees, for an average annual increase of 2 percent, VA’s workforce increased by 90,000 employees, or 4.5 percent each year on average and DHS grew by 47,000 employees or 3.7 percent on average. Among other findings in the report:
■ Most of the workforce growth from 2004 to 2012 came in the ranks of professional and administrative staff. Of more than 256,000 career employees added during that period, 60 percent were in administrative positions, 38 percent in professional jobs. The latter category includes doctors and scientists.
■ The federal workforce is growing better educated as a whole. More than 40 percent of employees added from 2004 to 2012 had at least a bachelor’s degree; an additional 53 percent had at least a master’s.
■ During the same period, employee attrition varied markedly by agency, On average, for example, about 11 percent of Office of Personnel Management employees quit or retired each year, compared to a government-wide average of 5.9 percent per year.