The federal government began the year with 2.7 million civilian employees in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the Office of Personnel Management reported yesterday.

The January 2004 snapshot showed that executive branch employees -- in Cabinet departments and other federal agencies -- accounted for 97.6 percent of the government's civilian employment. The legislative branch -- Congress and its support agencies -- made up 1.1 percent, and the judicial branch -- mostly the federal court system -- accounted for 1.3 percent.

Of the total, 12.3 percent -- or 333,462 -- worked in the Washington area.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the OPM count does not suggest that government employment has been growing in recent months. Overall, civilian employment was down 34,473 in January 2004, compared with the previous January. The U.S. Postal Service accounted for about 26,000 of that decline.

Washington area federal employment held relatively steady, up 626 jobs in January 2004 from January 2003.

Although jobs are being created to strengthen homeland security, they probably will be offset by job reductions in other federal sectors because of budgetary constraints and the growing use of contractors, analysts suggest.

The OPM tally is a "head count" of full- and part-time federal federal employees, which is different than the "full-time equivalent" employment figure used by the Office of Management and Budget in setting personnel and salary limits. Under the OMB count, two part-time employees could equal one full-time employee.

As a general rule, federal employment shrinks during the winter and then swells during the summer, when agencies bring on interns and seasonal workers to cope with increased visitors to national parks and other public sites.

OPM counted about 2.64 million civilian employees in the executive branch, as of January. Among the largest employers were the U.S. Postal Service, 780,313 employees; Defense Department, 663,380 civilian employees; Veterans Affairs Department, 232,172; and the Department of Homeland Security, 149,258 civilian employees.

Retirements

Kathleen Arpa, physical security specialist at the Internal Revenue Service, retired June 3 after more than 38 years of federal service.

George M. Chernesky Jr., comptroller of the Joint Staff at the Defense Department for the last 20 years, will retire June 30 after 37 years of government service.

Carolyn Ellerbe, a workers' compensation specialist at the Government Printing Office, retired April 1 after more than 29 years of federal service.

Edmond L. Ellerbe, a printing specialist at the Government Printing Office, retired April 1 after more than 40 years of federal service.

Stephen E. Hershkowitz, assistant general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, retired this month after more than 35 years of federal service.

Peggy Lambert, security manager for the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, will retire July 3 after 38 years of federal service.

Capt. Thomas P. McIlravy, commanding officer of the Navy Supply Information Systems Activity, will retire June 25 after a 27-year Navy career.

George Morgan, a strategic planner with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, will retire July 3 after more than 37 years in human resource management at the Defense Department.

Barry Sherbal, agency mail program manager at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, retired in April after 30 years of federal service.

Marjorie G. Siegel, a senior analyst at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will retire June 25 after more than 33 years of federal service.

Talk Shows

Margie Moore, executive director of Women in Federal Law Enforcement, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Ira L. Hobbs, chief information officer at the Treasury Department, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Military or Civilian: Who Is Most Important?" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com