Federal hiring has declined rapidly in recent years, while the number of departures has increased nearly as fast. That’s a recipe for a shrinking government.
As we pointed out in an earlier article, the federal workforce has been dwindling since 2011, after a period of considerable growth during the first years of the Obama administration — the workforce is still larger than it was during President George W. Bush’s tenure, despite the recent decline.
Civil-service advocates have expressed concerns about the latest trends, worrying that agencies will struggle to serve a growing U.S. population with fewer workers. Let’s dissect some of the federal-workforce numbers to learn more about where things stand.
Below are a few graphs and key figures from a recent Partnership for Public Service report on federal departures to help shed light on this topic. The data comes from the Office of Personnel Management.
New hires vs. departures
The number of federal employees leaving government rose from about 83,000 in 2008 to 114,000 last year, representing a 37 percent increase in departures. At the same time, the number of hires has declined every year since 2009, dropping from about 140,000 to roughly 77,000.
See how the trends are moving in opposite directions:
Reasons for departing
Federal employees leave the government for numerous reasons: resignations, retirements, layoffs, terminations and even death.
In 2013, retirements made up the largest category of departures, accounting for 54 percent of all separations. Resignations, which happen when people just decided to work somewhere else, constituted more than 34 percent of the workers who left the government.
Interestingly, the number of employees who resigned decreased during the economic downturn that continued into President Obama’s first year in the White House. Government workers were apparently less likely to leave civil service while the job market was unstable.
It’s worth noting that a wave of retirements by senior federal employees began recently as aging baby boomers who held onto their jobs during the downturn increasingly decided to leave the workforce.
Top occupations for departures
The biggest losses last year occurred in the field of administration, operations and general management, followed by health-care work — no wonder the Department of Veterans Affairs has struggled to meet demand at its medical centers.
Below is a Washington Post chart that shows the top 10 occupational groups for federal departures, based on the Partnership for Public Service report.
One of the more notable trends that the Partnership for Public Service highlighted was the percentage of military veterans who have left the government since 2008. Former troops made up one-third of the departures since then, according to the report.
Despite that turnover rate, the number of veterans in the federal workforce has surprisingly increased. In 2008, the government employed about 447,000 former service members, compared to 572,000 in 2013. That’s a nearly 28 percent rise.
Why the big increase? The trend coincides with an executive order Obama issued in 2009 that encouraged federal agencies to hire more veterans.