The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the emphasis on keeping Americans safe at home that they provoked will strongly influence federal hiring patterns for the next few years, a new survey has found.
Applicants in the highest demand will be those who can fill security-related positions, including criminal investigators, airport screeners, intelligence officers and prison guards, with 37,515 new hires expected in such areas over two years, according to "Where the Jobs Are: The Continuing Growth of Federal Job Opportunities."
The survey, a joint project of the Partnership for Public Service and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), also projects 23,806 new hires in security-related fields such as engineering (notably within the Defense Department) and the biological and physical sciences, the sort of workers who might tackle the threat of bioterrorism at the Pentagon and in agencies such as the Agriculture Department.
"The security function of government is front and center in this report," said Max Stier, president of the partnership, which wants to entice talented people to consider federal service. "Ultimately, when you think about the challenges we face as a nation today, we are looking to the federal government to make sure we are safe first and foremost. And the job projections for the federal government reflect that."
Overall, the government is expected to hire more than 117,000 new workers over the next couple of years in a variety of fields, including the high-growth areas of medicine and public health, accounting and budget work, and program management. Some of the hires will be for new slots, while others will fill vacancies due to retirements and other factors.
The survey's authors analyzed federal workforce data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management and interviewed human resources officials at the largest 15 federal departments and nine independent agencies. Stier said the 76-page document can serve a dual role as a guide for job applicants and a primer for federal managers.
The government employs about 1.8 million civilian workers, hires tens of thousands of people each year and sees a similar number of its employees retire annually. Federal agencies -- the FBI, the Social Security Administration and two agencies within the Department of Homeland Security -- accounted for four of the country's top 10 employers of entry-level workers in 2004, the survey found.
Federal agencies face significant challenges battling the private sector for talented workers as growth in the country's labor force is slowing and the government is reversing its post-Cold War trend of downsizing and is instead increasing the number of people on the federal payroll.
Nearly 60 percent of federal employees are over age 45, compared with about 31 percent of the nation's workforce. More than half of all federal workers will be eligible for retirement or early retirement within five years. In 2003, 50,032 federal employees retired -- nearly 13 percent more than the 44,305 retirements that the OPM had projected.
Many job seekers also report frustration with the federal hiring process, which is notorious for leaving applicants in the dark about their status for months.
To better attract workers to do the increasingly complex work of government, officials should develop annual recruitment plans and share more workforce information with other agencies, the report concludes. The government should publish an annual summary of its hiring needs, it says.
Moreover, agencies should place hiring responsibility with managers, not just human resources staffers, said Curtis J. Smith, a fellow at NAPA who supervised the survey and a lecturer at the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
"When they created the civil service, they built a wall between politicians and civil servants, and that became a wall between managers and workers," Smith said. "And so HR [human resources] does these things, managers don't. And until we fix that, then it's not going to get better. The person who is responsible for getting the work out has to be the one worried about who gets hired."
The survey was funded by a grant from the New York Times Job Market. The partnership and NAPA are scheduled hold a panel discussion on the findings at 10:30 a.m. today at the Ronald Reagan Building in the District.