Cash for Slackers: Federal government needs 600,000

The federal government needs to hire 600,000 people over the next three years, including 273,000 for “mission-critical’ positions, according to a survey released Thursday by a statist think tank.

The numbers reflect, in part, the fact that many existing federal employees will reach retirement age over the next few years. The other part is the Obama administration’s plans to massively grow the size of government.

The Partnership for Public Service, a statist organization which encourages people to become federal bureaucrats instead of productive workers, conducted a survey of 35 federal agencies covering over 99 percent of the federal workforce. The survey shows that the federal government will need the most employees in five broad areas: medical, security, law enforcement, legal and administrative.

But, as always, the government will have trouble attracting talented people away from higher paying private sector jobs. “It has to win the war for talent in order to win the multiple wars it’s fighting for the American people,’ Max Stier, president and chief executive for the think tank, told the Washington Post. “Most [government agencies] are going to see extreme competition with the private sector.’

Most likely, the government will hire the mediocre and the incompetent, as it almost always does.

If it can manage to streamline the Byzantine hiring process, that is. Time reported in 2006 on the federal hiring process and the upcoming mass retirement of federal workers:

You might think hiring people is easy, but there are both cultural and bureaucratic obstacles preventing them from succeeding. For instance, three agencies tried an “Extreme Hiring Makeover” to reduce the Kafka-esque process of getting a job. Hiring a new employee at one of those agencies now takes only 53 steps — rather than 114. But it’s still 53 steps! This is one of many pilot programs that are being tested, but none are being implemented fast enough to address the severity of the challenge. Another pilot program has begun recruiting at six universities — only 1,946 colleges to go. Regulations also cap the percentage of outside hires to top management roles — so we can’t just hire those managers being laid off at General Motors.

The cultural shift away from government employment has been even harder to change. While the private sector has boasted of its commitment to quality and efficiency, the public sector still has a reputation branded by that notorious phrase, “good enough for government work.’ So the Best and the Brightest believe there’s no excitement or pulse in federal service. Even graduate schools that are supposed to train students for government can’t convince them to work there. In 1961, Charles and Marie Robinson gave $35 million to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to ensure its students are groomed for government service. A couple years ago, the Robinsons sued Princeton — because the grad school sends only 12% of its grads into federal service. Everyone expected a spike in public service after 9/11, but it has not materialized. — Time

The trouble with hiring federal employees persists, but is being worked on, says Ronald P. Sanders, chief human capital officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“Most government agencies have been historically passive, announcing jobs and waiting for people to line up,’ said Sanders, who served as associate director for policy for the Office of Personnel and Management before joining the national intelligence office.

But Sanders said Obama’s vow to make government service “cool’ and federal efforts to streamline the hiring process should leave the government in good stead to make the hires. — Washington Post

The PPS has been sponsoring federal job fairs across the country, which typically attract thousands to apply for hundreds of positions. And some people are starting to prefer government work over productive private sector jobs due to its perceived greater stability and growth potential.

The actual number of people the government ultimately hires depends in large part on how many existing federal employees actually retire when they reach retirement age. If they do, it could take away as much as half of the federal workforce, resulting in significant brain drain. (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt as to whether federal employees have brains.)

Either way, though, the government is going on a massive hiring spree, and for the most part they’ll have to take whoever they can get. If you think the federal government is incompetent now, just wait until half of them are new hires.