SES Group Warns of U.S. Government ‘Failure’ Due to Loss of Civilian Workforce Capacity

”Has the U.S. Federal Government reached a point where critical operations might fail in stressful events that are likely to occur? … Based on the data collected in this study, it appears the answer to these critical questions is yes.”

So begins the executive summary for the Senior Executives Association’s Are Declines in U.S. Federal Workforce Capabilities Putting Our Government at Risk?

Issued in early February 2019, the report identifies these critical issues, with emphasis added:

  • Almost 20 percent of the government’s top managers, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), departed in the first twelve months of the current administration, and numbers have not fully recovered. In December of 2016 there were 8,281 Senior Executives. 1,506 of those SES members left government during 2017. New additions made up ground, but in December of 2017 a deficit of 377 SES members remained compared to one year prior.
  • There are five-fold more Federal workers over 60 than under 30 years old -- less than 6 percent of the federal workforce is under 30 years old.
  • The last major revision to the civil service rules for recruiting, hiring and retention of the Federal workforce was 40 years ago, a time that predates the Internet. Looking at these staffing dynamics across agencies, the prospects are even bleaker.

Observers have previously identified each of these problems. To cite just one example, Politico on Sept. 27, 2017, posted an article titled “America’s Government Is Getting Old.”

The just-published SEA report stands out for both its dire tone and its appearance after years of long-recognized problems only growing worse.

Easy solutions do not exist, and the authors of the report actually suggest that private sector companies need to step into many roles currently filled by federal agencies. This would go beyond contracting and public-private partnerships to finding “new ways of organizing who does what work in public service and how to include more bottom-up, ‘entrepreneurial-on-the-inside’ activities that reward employees that help public service adapt to changing demands of citizens and needs of the nation.”

For now, the Partnership for Public Service shares a range of resources for agencies that need to improve their recruiting and hiring.