Want a federal job? Hiring decline creating big challenge

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Hiring into federal jobs has slowed to the lowest level in nine years, new government data shows, with just 76,735 new employees entering the federal workforce in fiscal 2013, a drop of more than 14.5 percent compared to the previous year.

The governmentwide budget cuts known as sequestration, along with growing fiscal pressures on executive-branch agencies, are responsible for the gradually shrinking workforce, and agencies are rethinking how they operate to minimize cuts to public services.

“Many agencies looked at furloughing employees last year,” said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which compiled employment data from the Office of Personnel Management for a second consecutive year. “It’s hard to hire new people in that situation.”

McManus is hosting a Twitter chat on the new numbers at 2 p.m. Thursday.

The hiring decline comes as a wave of baby-boomers and others leave the government, many after long careers and with deep expertise in their fields. McManus said most of the newcomers are replacing departing employees, rather than filling newly created jobs. Roughly 110,000 people left federal jobs in fiscal 2013, leaving about 33,000 more employees who left than were replaced.

(Graphic Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)
(Graphic Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Fully one-third of the new hires are filling jobs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is hiring doctors, nurses, mental health experts, data-entry workers and others to support a surge in returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the agency is caught up in a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care.

Another 36.2 percent of new hires are filling jobs at Department of Defense agencies, which continue to fill vacancies, particularly in the area of cybersecurity.

Veterans, who jump the line in the hiring process under an Obama administration initiative, made up 45 percent of new employees last year, a larger percentage than they make up in the total federal workforce (31.7 percent).

Also, about two-thirds of new hires are coming in at entry levels, between GS-1 and GS-9. This may explain why about a quarter of the newcomers are under 30, roughly mirroring the percent of young workers’ in the broader American workforce.


(Graphic courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Almost 77,000 new hires is a lot of new employees, but it’s still relatively small in a workforce of 2 million people, especially compared to the high-water mark of recent years: 143,168 new hires in 2009. Almost 90,000 people were hired to full-time, non-seasonal executive branch jobs in fiscal 2012.

The downward trend in recent years is bad news for job seekers hoping to land work with the federal government, but it’s good news for fiscal conservatives who believe government needs to shrink and become more efficient.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.
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