The government may soon present a feast of opportunities for job seekers.

The percentage of workers older than 45 is almost twice as high in the civil service (60 percent) as in the private sector (31 percent), according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

The group estimates that 44 percent of federal employees will become eligible to retire during the next five years, with 61 percent reaching eligibility in nine years.

Analysts at the Office of Personnel Management believe the government will face a retirement wave, probably from 2008 to 2010. To prevent a shortage of experienced hands, OPM leaders are urging agencies to work a little harder at forecasting their workforce needs and recruiting young and mid-career professionals.

In a brief paper this month, the Partnership, which looks for ways to reinvigorate federal service, warned that the government could face large-scale turnover and the loss of key employees. According to the group:

* 40 percent of Department of Homeland Security managers and program analysts will be eligible for retirement by 2009.

* 42 percent of the Senior Executive Service, the government's elite cadre of managers and technical experts, is projected to retire by 2010.

* 87 percent of claims assistants and examiners and 94 percent of administrative law judges at the Social Security Administration will reach retirement eligibility by 2010.

This week, the OPM database for job applicants listed about 19,000 openings across the government -- for architects, air traffic controllers, accountants, museum curators, biologists, computer programmers, law enforcement officers, trademark examiners, engineers and geologists, to name a few examples.

Numerous agencies are using intern programs and other hiring methods to attract recent college graduates and workers looking to change careers or take up the challenge of public service.

To be sure, the federal hiring process is difficult to navigate and, according to many readers, downright discouraging. Federal job forms appear to defy common sense, and many agencies have earned a bad reputation for letting job hunters slip into limbo with little or no feedback on the status of their application.

It's possible that the projected retirement wave won't create much of a splash. Economic downturns, stock market returns and family priorities often keep people working longer than they had planned.

The coming decade, however, seems to be shaping up as a time when agencies will rethink how they use their workforces, creating jobs and improving on areas of weakness, such as training and career development programs.

For all the government's problems, surveys show repeatedly that the vast majority of federal employees believe that their work is important, like what they do and would recommend their agency as a place to work.

On this Thanksgiving day, the government should be thankful for the dedication and goodwill of so many federal employees. That's pretty darned important.

From FEHBP to Medicare

Abby Block has been named director of the Center for Beneficiary Choices for the Medicare program. Block managed policy and operations for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program before joining the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The Center for Beneficiary Choices was reorganized last year after enactment of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, which authorized the new Medicare prescription drug program. It focuses on the major benefits, including drug coverage, provided to older Americans.

Block came to Washington in 1979 as a presidential management intern and has played a key role in developing benefit programs for federal employees, including long-term care insurance and flexible spending accounts.

Rothwell to Retire

Gregory D. Rothwell, chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security, will retire Dec. 2, the department announced.

Rothwell arrived at the department from the Internal Revenue Service, where he served as the senior career executive for agency-wide services, providing procurement, personnel, facilities and other support to IRS offices. From 1990 to 1999, he served as the IRS's first assistant commissioner for procurement. He began his career as a contract negotiator for the Defense Department.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com