Uncle Sam Must Learn to Slow the Brain Drain

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Youth. Youth. Youth.

Does everything have to be for people who have only one prescription in their eyeglasses?

Sometimes it seems the world of business and employment is totally focused on the under-35 set.

That's a critical demographic, no doubt. But if Uncle Sam wants to get the jump on his private-sector competitors, he'd better pay closer attention to folks with some gray in their hair.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says the federal government should do a better job of retaining and hiring older people. Doing so "may serve to make the federal government a more competitive and productive employer overall," the GAO says.

This is an important issue, because so many federal staffers are nearing retirement age. By 2012, one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire. In some agencies it's 46 percent.

And in those three years, nearly two-thirds of career executives and almost half of other supervisors can retire from across the government, the report adds.

That doesn't mean all those people will suddenly have retirement parties. In fact, Sam has good retention rates. Many workers stay on the job five years after they could kick back and play with the grandkids.

Plus with a tanking economy that's slashing retirement savings, lots of people feel they better stay put because they can't afford to quit.

But they are not going to work forever, and the federal government needs to get ready for the day when they walk out the door and don't come back. "Eventually baby boomers will leave the workforce and when they do, they will leave behind gaps in leadership, skills, and knowledge," the GAO warns.

Kevin Carroll, a former program executive officer with the Army, is one of those baby boomers who retired 16 months ago. Although he's happy in retirement, making much more now as a consultant than he did previously, he says he has friends who would be willing to take a pay cut to return to federal employment because of the new atmosphere created by President Obama's administration.

"The motivation would be the chance to get in there and change some of the stuff we didn't agree with," said Carroll, sounding relaxed during a phone interview from a race track in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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