On Federal Employment

Federal employment has received considerable attention of late, so now is a good time for this post.

In an August David Broder (Washington Post) (a columnist I appreciate) stated the DoD Secretary Robert Gates’ and his plan to trim department spending would trickle down through other departments. In this time of a soaring Washington deficit, political campaigns are full of the popular rhetoric to reduce spending and the deficit. Even the Republican’s Pledge to America promotes imposing a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees.

Let me be the first to reminder everyone that we have heard this before; and, many of those spouting this philosophy are the very incumbents causing the problem. Nonetheless, the issue of federal employment is worth examining.

I have always said that inefficient government has one big advantage – employment. The U.S. government employees over 2 million people, so just think how many people would be unemployed if government was more efficient. Like many issues, one can find the “rest of the story” and potential answers in the demographics.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management publishes The Fact Book: Federal Civilian Workforce Statistics (last published in 2007). Here are two prominent numbers about the Federal workforce: Average age is in the mid-40s, and over 70% of Federal employees are over 40. In other words, the Federal workforce is an old lot … and all this with 2006 employment numbers.

First, the GOP pledge’s “a net hiring freeze.” In other words, no new workers in new positions, but, replace the ones who retire. How is that going to reduce spending?

Second, whether Secretary Gates or any other department/agency head, are they going to lay off workers as they approach retirement?

Third, with the sudden “concern” about the deficit, federal employment is being scrutinized. With so man impending retirements, is this a good time to freeze employment?

Pragmatists (as me) see numbers are in place for a natural reduction in force across the federal government. For example, as personnel retire over the next 10 years, all departments will replace three retirees with two replacements – so plan accordingly. Heck, maybe having fewer workers would force the Feds to become more efficient.

Who is making the most sense? What do you think?


4 thoughts on “On Federal Employment

  1. Well written, Frank. Like yourself, I also appreciate the fine work of Washington Post columnist David Broder. It’s interesting that your critical-thinking skills here are certainly what the big-spenders in Washington are most concerned about. They have come to believe that simply rehashing the same empty rhetoric will be enough to satisfy the hardworking American taxpayers. Your post brings to mind what my Pappy use to say around the kitchen table about politicians and policy wonks in general: “More is SAID than DONE”. Just my two cents, Sir.

    Have a good day, Frank.


    • AL,
      Your Pappy’s words (More is said than done) are spot on … simple, accurate, and powerful. Simply wow!

      Proof in the pudding lies in digging for the numbers. I knew the federal workforce as (as a whole) top heavy in terms of age, but I didn’t have any numbers to back it up. Once I found them, the light provided a clear view of the situation. The feds currently have a build-in downsizing situation at their fingertips – but planning is essential. PLUS – it should be abused – meaning not forcing people out, and not using a person moving to another position as an excuse for not filling the position.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  2. Hi Frank!

    At least you care to make decisions that reflect upon accurate numbers, unlike so many of the directors/administrators of the various federal level departments, who seem to find themselves challenged to find specific numbers when their individual programs are being examined. Somewhere along the way, Frank, and I don’t know where or when, it seems these bureaucrats lost sight of “serving” the American people and instead sought creative ways to maintain the status-quo–even if that meant doing so at the expense of the hardworking American taxpayers.

    However, in fairness to all the former patriotic and dedicated Federal employees who have served our nation with distinction and honor, I want to be fair and not make gross generalizations, nor marginalize their service in any way. Let’s find ways to promote their faithful and loyal service to the country they love, yet ensure that we retain only these type of dedicated public-servants, and departmental programs that benefit the taxpayers as oppose to adding more dead weight to an already over burdened tax base.

    Have a good evening, Frank.


    • Al,
      As an organization, the Federal government isn’t built for efficiency. After all, it’s structure was probably piecemeal together through the ages based upon need … then oops … it’s a bit cumbersome.

      In terms of the employees, surely it has its share of dead weight …. but to be fair …. that’s also true through out the private sector. One of my points is simply that the next 10-year window offers a great opportunity to downsize and become more efficient. My key question is if we have leadership that can see it through in an apolitical sense. I think I just said why it won’t happen.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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