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Report: One-quarter of new federal hires leave in two years

By Joe Davidson
Anne Bartlett

As soon as Uncle Sam finds good employees, he loses a bunch of them.

Nearly a quarter of new federal government hires leave their jobs within two years, according to a report released Thursday.

"The government is losing too many new hires -- the same talent it is working so hard to recruit and bring on board," says the report, "Beneath the Surface: Understanding Attrition at Your Agency and Why it Matters."

Though 24.2 percent of new hires left government from fiscal year 2006 to 2008, the situation at certain agencies was worse. More than a third of the new hires at the departments of Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security weren't there two years later, according to the report prepared by the consulting firm of Booz, Allen, Hamilton and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which has a content sharing relationship with The Washington Post.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was the best agency at keeping new talent, with a recently hired attrition rate of 10.8 percent. The State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Air Force and NASA also do well, with rates ranging from 14.5 percent to 15.7 percent.

Generally speaking, Sam does a good job of keeping his people on the job. Job security is a well-known attraction of government employment. The report says overall federal attrition rates were 7.6 percent in fiscal 2008 and 5.85 percent in 2009, compared with a private sector rate of 9.2 percent in 2008.

But those overall low attrition rates can mask deeper problems, according to Ron Sanders, a senior executive adviser with Booz Allen.

Agencies should not "be lulled to sleep by an historically low attrition number," he said.

Losing newly hired workers is a problem for both the agency and the employee.

"For example, while attrition of recently hired employees means a loss of the considerable investment expended to bring them on board -- literally money down the drain -- it also can indicate weaknesses in the agency's recruiting, hiring and on-boarding processes, as well as shortcomings in supervision," the report says.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Joe Davidson  | November 4, 2010; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

I'd be curious to see how many of the almost 25% that left within two years did so because they didn't pass the background investigation. Depending on the Federal agency, quite often an employee is hired WAY BEFORE the background investigation is complete. It often is completed within two years, and if the employee doesn't pass he/she is let go. Just a thought.

Posted by: astrosmylz | November 4, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"...shortcomings in supervision". Now there's a subject you could write an entire book about.

Posted by: blackforestcherry | November 4, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

What about the continual continuing resolutions? We are not in our third year of CRs.

Rather than do the job they are hired for it has become easier for legislators to simply wrap up the budgets for non-DOD agencies into omnibus bills with no extra money allocated.

This means that Uncle Sam cannot keep the new hires because Congress isn't passing the necessary funding.

Posted by: ered1 | November 4, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"...shortcomings in supervision"

Really? You really think so? Really?

Do a real test and see how many supervisors hired to management within the last decade can define and understand what the merit principles are and mean. Betcha you'll find a very low percentage! Survey the workers. You find a very high percentage will say their supervisors micro-manage and bully workers. And survey the workforce to see how they feel about upper management. Once someone gets a SES position in DoD, they think they were born again and became Kings and Queens in their realm.

Now I ask.. who in their right mind wants to make a career working with that?

I am a few steps from retirement (30+ yrs); otherwise I would have been LONG gone! DoD swings billions on college pay offs and conitnuing education, but ZERO for supervisor or management training. Heck, they already waste hundreds of man hours working on NSPS, even though it is suppose to be dead.

GS workers, who are white collar service and admin professionals do not have daily objectives that can be measured. BUT they still want workers to create unmeasurable objectives for their annual appraisal. Dumb!

Posted by: darbyohara | November 4, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Have no fear . . . I understand there is a whole new crop of candidates that were recently let go by "We The People" last Tuesday.

Posted by: WeThePeopleofVirginia | November 4, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but background investigations are NOT the cause of attrition in the Federal government. Believe me when I say that you cannot be a Federal employee if your job is based upon a security clearance. When I was hired as a Federal employee in the 1990's after the Reagan-Era freeze on hiring, it took 18 months before I could get a clearance. In the meantime, I had to wait until I was permanently hired before I could come onboard. They don't hire you in those jobs unless you have a clearance already. The background check is much easier to get than the highly secret clearances. You can be hired and working while they are checking your background for "suitability" but believe me...they have already determined that you were "suitable" before they would hire you. So, security clearances aren't the problem.

The problem is that the jobs people are hired for turn out to be lacking in upward mobility or are dead-ended clerical positions hiding under a professional title. If you are ambitious, young, and capable, then you should move onward in about 2 years. What should be a major concern is why there isn't enough opportunity for lower-level staff in the Federal government. I've seen an imbalance of too many GS-11s,GS-12s, and GS-13s not doing a lot of high level work in the Federal government and more lower-level workers doing the jobs of 2 or 3 people. It is the lower-level grades that are working harder for less money. And, those lower-graded folks can't move upward because there isn't enough promotional opportunity to be had for them. A person in that situation is wise to move out of a dead-end quickly before it is too late. Problem #1: Federal managers don't concern themselves with the professional development of their new hires. They do not make it a routine to create individualized professional development plans for their hires to demonstrate what they need to do (which projects or tasks to be taken on) so that they can move upward. They dump the grunt work on those new people, give them standardized OPM performance reviews at the end of the year, and reward those they like before they reward those that matter (who do the work). That is a good starting point for a discussion as to why the Federal government sucks at retention.

Posted by: kitten2 | November 4, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

@astrosmylz- not as many as you would like to believe. The flip of the statement would be more accurate question- how many leave for more lucrative private sector jobs because they obtained they their clearance.

The reason to leave federal government: leadership, no possible advancement, toxic work environment, duties performed are not what you were hired for...the list can be lengthy. The benefits rarely are the deciding factor for coming into the federal workforce or staying. The agencies' missions and the job itself will always be the deciding factor. I won't stay in a position where I have no faith in my leadership, the job is not what I signed on to do, and toxic co-workers who should be fired but the paperwork isn't worth it.

Posted by: devilsadvocate3 | November 4, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Back in 2007, there was a "crisis" coming in the Federal workforce. 1/4th to 1/3rd of all agency employees were set to retire within 5 years.

Companies like Lockheed-Martin, who supply contract labor, were gleefully ramping up their hiring to get these soon-to-be-vacant positions filled.

Now things have slowed down with folks trying to get ready to retire by rebuilding their 401Ks and waiting for their home values to recover a bit.

However, with their Federal pensions secure, it won't take long and these folks have had severay years to bebuild their pre-retirement assets.

The same "crisis" is occurring in the private sector. My state, Colorado, is loosing 1/3rd of its Dentists in the next several years. Most of them can retire since they have a lot more assets than average. My wife and I both lost our Dentists last year to retirement.

This "grey-wave" of Boomers is going to cause a lot of change in the US.

Isn't there an official Federal agency that looks at staffing in each Federal branch? Office of Personnel Management rings a vague bell..

Maybe a look at their data may be a good story.

Sam Verneer
Pueblo, Colorado

Posted by: samveneer | November 4, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Does this study look at all GS employees are just the permanent ones? And if term employees are included, is there any standardization for term length?

I have never known anyone hired on a term position who doesn't keep looking for something more stable throughout that term, all the while, if they do like their job, trying to get their boss to pull whatever strings are available to create a permanent position they can move into.

Posted by: HardyW | November 4, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

And why is this? Because most private employees pay much more....which is yet another example why that FoxNews study that showed public people making more than private sectors was an absolute joke

Posted by: Bious | November 4, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

And why is this? Because most private employees pay much more....which is yet another example why that FoxNews study that showed public people making more than private sectors was an absolute joke

Posted by: Bious | November 4, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

If only the entrenched bureaucrats would follow their wise example.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 4, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

And why is this? Because most private employees pay much more....which is yet another example why that FoxNews study that showed public people making more than private sectors was an absolute joke

Posted by: Bious
=============

If you're going to hype something, try hyping it with the facts. It was not a "FoxNews study," but instead one that originated with the Cato Institute, then was repeated ad nauseum.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | November 4, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

There are agencies that cannot keep good people and no one seems to care. DHS is a cesspool of bad management and leadership. It's waste, fraud and abuse and I hope this is investigated.

With regard to why people leave in general -- the private sector does pay more. I could be making a lot more but I decided I wanted to try policy and public service. And the benefits are no better than what I was getting out in the private sector. What pension? I contribute to a 401 K like I did in the private sector. And I pay a good amount of money for the health benefits. And the benefits are only so so. The only thing "better" about the Federal government is you can't get fired because your boss doesn't like you. Of course, this also means you can't get rid of dead weight so easily.

Too much hyperbole about the Federal workforce. I don't really like these generalizations and I might just go back to the private sector.

Posted by: commentator3 | November 4, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Booze has lots to gain by making comments like that without any data to show for it. But then again, Booze is that type of company. They do shoddy work anyway. They want the government to believe Fed employees don't stay long, because that is more justification to keep hiring useless contractors that just take up space.

Posted by: FranknErnest | November 4, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

If people are leaving Government, then John Berry of the Office of Personnel Management should know why, and do something about it. That's his job, to manage Personnel. That's where the buck stops on this issue.

So what is he doing about it? If he doesn't know what to do, then who should?

The heads of Government agencies are political appointees who may not have a clue about how to run their agency. Maybe they should be carreer employees instead. That would be a start. Get politics out of the agencies.

Posted by: AMorgen | November 5, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The truth of the matter, poor supervision and lack of leadership in developing the full potential of hired employees. Too often poor supervision is the reason many federal employees leave.

Posted by: tacada | November 5, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"While attrition of recently hired employees means a loss of the considerable investment expended to bring them on board -- literally money down the drain"

Uhm no. If it is literally money down the drain I would expect to hear reports of dollars and coins LITERALLY going down a drain.

Posted by: flike | November 5, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

This is a very curious discussion without some mention of how many of these new employees were let go or left with the understanding they were not welcome. Probationary employees are the most easily fired of all Federal employees, and, in my experience, managers are far more apt to arrange for their termination than Feds that are out of their probationary status. Also, what are the comparative turnover rates for new employees at large, bureaucratic corporate organizations? The assumption here seems to be, without proof, that these employees just couldn't stand the core Federal Government work, or their colleagues, or management. While there is probably some of that, there are also probably some that weren't working out and others that came from "looser" work environments which they ultimately preferred.

Posted by: finserra | November 5, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

This is a very curious discussion without some mention of how many of these new employees were let go or left with the understanding they were not welcome. Probationary employees are the most easily fired of all Federal employees, and, in my experience, managers are far more apt to arrange for their termination than Feds that are out of their probationary status. Also, what are the comparative turnover rates for new employees at large, bureaucratic corporate organizations? The assumption here seems to be, without proof, that these employees just couldn't stand the core Federal Government work, or their colleagues, or management. While there is probably some of that, there are also probably some that weren't working out and others that came from "looser" work environments which they ultimately preferred.

Posted by: finserra | November 5, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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