The federal government faces a potential recruitment crisis in the coming years, as 29 percent of the government’s workforce is over 55 and near or above the minimum retirement age. Meanwhile only 8 percent of the federal workforce is below 30, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Connolly, Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., convened at George Mason University in Virginia Oct. 4 to talk to students about the benefits of choosing a federal job.
“We don’t toot our own horn. We have our heads down, doing our work,” said Ahuja. “Our appeal to you all today and what we’ll be doing I think for months to come is that the federal government is a great place and a very cool place to work.”
According to Ahuja, federal jobs have long been a ticket to the middle class, offering fair pay, broad health insurance options and a robust retirement package.
Beyer said that a federal employee has a “very clear career path.”
“You get not just job reviews every year but step increases,” he said. “So you can start as a GS-5 and end up a GS-15, which is not true in many different fields. The second wonderful thing is that there is virtually no wage discrimination male against female because of this system.”
“This is actually the moment to come into the federal government,” said Ahuja, noting that pandemic response efforts, coupled with environmental and infrastructure initiatives, have given the federal government many important jobs to tackle.
Beyer said the federal government is increasingly “doing more with less. The ratio of federal employees to total U.S. citizens is the lowest it’s been even in our lifetimes.”
The true low point of federal employees compared to U.S. residents was in 2007, when there was approximately one federal employee for every 160 people in the U.S., according to OPM employment data and U.S. population data. Today that number stands at around one for every 156.
But the federal government has historically had much higher ratios, with a high of one fed for every 42 people in the U.S. in 1945.
A core problem, according to Connolly, stems from the federal government’s internship program. In the private sector, companies aim for a double-digit percentage of interns to become permanent employees, with some above a 90-percent conversion rate.
“In the federal government, it’s in the single digits. We have failed utterly at constructing an internship opportunity that serves for recruitment,” said Connolly.
OPM has recently expanded the availability of paid federal internships and enabled those interns to get paid up to the level of a GS-11.
But Ahuja said “there’s a lot more we can and should be doing,” in areas like simplifying federal job postings and speeding up the notoriously long federal hiring process.
One such initiative encourages agencies to share candidate pools for substantively similar job postings, reducing the time it takes to collect a number of qualified candidates.
Ahuja also sees a robust telework program as a key selling point for federal jobs, as workers have indicated they would be willing to take a pay cut for the sake of increased telework options.
“Those are real dollars,” said Ahuja.
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.