In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to participate in public service, uttering the now-famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Baby boomers answered the call to duty, making government service a career. At the start of fiscal year 2012, there were four times as many federal employees over 50 years old than under age 30 and 12 percent were over age 60.
As the first wave of baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, federal retirements rose 24 percent, and then 26 percent in 2012 over 2010 levels, while hiring dropped 34 percent.
Government is losing highly-valued professionals, with vast institutional knowledge and unsurpassed dedication to public service. In designating “Strategic Human Capital Management” a high-risk area in 2013, the Government Accountability Office warned that gaps in leadership and institutional knowledge threaten government’s capacity to meet vital missions.
Today’s daunting fiscal challenges offer little choice but to embrace change to reduce costs while meeting evolving missions. Loss of valued employees is reality and, while never easy, provides a platform to move in new directions. While baby boomers committed for the long term, a 2012 global survey of human resources executives by Risk Management found workforces are increasingly uncommitted, with as many as 84 percent of employees planning to look for a new job during 2012, up from 60 percent in 2009.
Pay and hiring freezes, furloughs, shutdowns, mandates to do more with less and less, attacks on benefits, and federal employee bashing only exacerbate an already tenuous situation. Government has to be viewed as an employer of choice to attract the best and brightest and form today’s diverse and inclusive workforce.
Government needs to respect its workforce as its most important asset. A highly educated workforce has many options, and denigrating government employees is not only unfair but also bad business. People want to be appreciated and have pride that what they do makes a difference, which lured the baby boomers to long-term government careers. Employers of choice:
■ Avoid hierarchical stovepipes, empowering managers to make decisions based on shared understandings of organizational vision, mission, goals, objectives, strategies and risk appetite;
■ Establish partnerships across organizational units, fostering agency-wide collaboration and eliminating overlap and duplication;
■ Have agile organizational structures to enable staff redeployment as needs change;
■ Clearly define current and future resource and skill needs, maintaining an inventory of staff knowledge, skills and abilities for staffing and career development decisions;
■ Make training and mentoring priorities, even in tough budget times;
■ Adopt highly-competitive recruitment and retention strategies;
■ Place priority on succession planning and knowledge management;
■ Align performance goals to organizational goals, tying compensation and recognition to results;
■ Engage staff in transformation, so they are part of solutions;
■ Publicly celebrate successes.
Public service has special rewards far beyond dollars and cents. Where else can you support the world’s largest, most complex entities and contribute to missions critical to the well-being and protection of our great nation and fellow citizens? It’s now time to prepare for the next generation to answer President Kennedy’s “call to duty” by adopting leading human capital practices to pave the way.■
Jeffrey Steinhoff is Executive Director of the KPMG Government Institute and former Assistant Comptroller General of the United States for Accounting and Information Management. Laura Price is Partner, KPMG Federal Advisory Practice. Jeannie Walker-Bridges, Manager, KPMG Federal Advisory Practice, also contributed to this article. This article represents the views of the authors only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG LLP.