Nearly two-thirds of job seekers surveyed at a recent New York job fair said they had grown more interested in working for the federal government in the past few years, and many would prefer working in government to the private sector.

Those were two of the findings reported last week by the Office of Personnel Management, which commissioned the survey of people at an April 20 recruitment fair at Madison Square Garden. The event attracted more than 80 government and private employers and more than 5,000 attendees, of whom 932 voluntarily completed OPM questionnaires.

OPM Director Kay Coles James and other top officials said the agency wanted to gain a better understanding of the pool of potential applicants for the thousands of job openings in the federal government. (Job postings are listed on the federal employment Web site, www.usajobs.opm.gov.)

Identifying who is interested in working for the government, and why, involves flexing muscles that federal officials had little reason to use during a decade of government downsizing, said Doris Hausser, OPM's chief human capital officer and senior policy adviser.

"Government recruitment pretty much atrophied in the '90s," Hausser said Thursday at a news conference at which she discussed the survey results.

Hauser and James said they were pleased to see that, of those who completed questionnaires, 64 percent said their interest in working for the federal government had increased over the past few years. And 41 percent said they preferred government to the private sector, while only 7 percent said they would rather work at a private business. Thirty-nine percent reported no preference, and the remaining 13 percent did not answer or said they were not sure.

Although the survey did not probe reasons for the increase, many officials have said interest in government and military service grew after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

"There is a large pool of talented and educated individuals who are eager to serve in the federal government," James said in a statement. "This is good news for departments and agencies as they streamline their hiring systems in order to fill key positions over the next decade."

Survey respondents said that, besides money, the type of work and opportunities for advancement were the most important considerations in deciding whether to take a job. Regarding government employment, the most appealing feature is the chance to help people and make a difference, followed by having good pay and benefits, respondents said.

They said the greatest challenges to landing a federal position are having the right skills and learning about job openings.

More than half of those surveyed, 52 percent, said they were unemployed. Yet 55 percent had a college degree or higher, suggesting that the potential federal applicant pool contains many skilled people who are looking for work.

"You are really drawing top talent," Hausser said.

Hausser said the survey did not address several concerns with the government's recruiting and hiring process. She acknowledged that agencies often fail to track people with whom they have made contact at job fairs. And she said the poll did not attempt to flesh out the common complaint that the application process is so cumbersome that job seekers often must wait months to hear from agencies about their status.

"It was not designed to assess what was going on in that process," Hausser said.