Uncle Sam Has Trouble Keeping Good Help

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If the Job Fits

Five questions you should ask before accepting your next IT job.

I wrote last week about the opening of the Veterans Employment Program Office within the federal Office of Personnel Management, a move hoping to bring more veterans into government jobs.


But a recent report by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton found that nearly a quarter of new hires leave federal government jobs within two years. It's worse in some agencies-more than a third in the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security. In fact, 72 percent of Homeland Security career executives left that agency between 2003 and 2007, says Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson. My, doesn't that fact help us feel safe!


Here are some more startling tidbits: More than 28 percent of the federal work force was eligible to retire in fiscal year 2009. And the Office of Management and Budget estimates more than 48 percent of federal workers will be eligible to retire by 2015.


Overall, however, the attrition rate for federal workers was about 6 percent in 2009, below that of the private sector. What keeps those who stay? Likely the "velvet handcuffs" mentioned in my colleague Ann All's post: job security and attractive benefits and pensions. But why do so many leave? Ann mentions that government jobs in IT made a short list of sectors where compensation is increasing. In this post, in which the Partnership for Public Service's Tom Fox discusses what should be done to stem the attrition, check out the scathing comments. Here's an example:

Thirty years ago, an old line Lt Commader told me the government was a welfare program in sports coats. After my own thirty years I would add "and pant suits"... it's a painless well-paying conveyer belt for those who actually have a life after work. For the newly stoked twitteryouth, it must feel like the Gulag with timesheets.

It's true that the next generation, who have grown up with technology, bring a sometimes different perspective to work. But as Ann points out in this post, the workplace already is changing, so it's not clear whether the so-called Millennials will change work or to what degree work will change them. It's likely that the bureaucratic management structure of government work turns off many young workers and government will have to change to some degree to attract and retain them. That's especially true, since a wealth of other IT work can be found in the Washington, D.C., area-one of those "external factors" that Fox talks about that affects the attrition rate.