Graying of the federal workforce continues, report says

The federal workforce is getting older and wiser, but unless workforce planning takes hold, agencies will be left with skills gaps, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.

Nearly three-quarters of the federal workforce is now over the age of 40, according to CBO's report, "Changes in Federal Civilian Employment: An Update." The May report is the latest in periodic updates of CBO's analysis of governmentwide trends in federal civilian employment identified in its 1996 memorandum, "Changes in Federal Civilian Employment." The last update was issued in June 1999.

"If the federal government continues its recent efforts to limit employment, the aging of the workforce will likely continue," the report said. The CBO data bolsters General Accounting Office reports that urge federal agencies to use succession planning and to train and develop existing staff to make up for anticipated gaps in skills that retiring workers will leave behind.

The report's analysis of workforce data from 1985 to 2000 also suggests that the federal workforce is becoming more skilled, more educated and more white-collar. In 2000, 87 percent of federal civilian employees held jobs in white-collar occupations and 40 percent held advanced degrees, compared with 79 percent and 30 percent respectively in 1985.

The shift away from blue-collar jobs to professional and administrative positions can be attributed to Defense Department downsizing, automation and the outsourcing of support positions to the private sector, the report said.

As a result, the federal government may see a demand for more highly trained personnel to manage contracts and to oversee highly technical information technology systems, the report said.

From 1985 through 2000, the federal workforce declined by 19 percent, or a little less than a half million employees. The total number of federal employees fell from 2.3 million in 1985 to 1.8 million in 2000.

CBO's figures don't include the hundreds of thousands of temporary workers hired for the 2000 decennial census, the government's contract workforce or workforce data on intelligence agencies.

The largest drops in employment were at the Defense Department, which saw a 37 percent decline in civilian employment from 1985 to 2000. Employment among all other federal agencies decreased by 2.5 percent.

Trends in employment among federal agencies varied. A few agencies saw percentage reductions that were higher than Defense's. For example, the Office of Personnel Management reduced its ranks by 45 percent while the General Services Administration saw a 49 percent employment decline over the 1985-2000 period.

The report attributed workforce reductions at the Defense Department to decreased workloads in a post-Cold War era. But at other agencies, the more streamlined workforces were the result of tighter budgets and efforts to improve program management, CBO said.

The Justice Department was the only agency that experienced an increase in employment over the specified period. The agency workforce nearly doubled from 62,900 to 125,300 over the 15-year time frame, due in large part to efforts to fight drug-related crimes, the report said.

The report chronicled employment trends by region and state during the 15-year period, noting that the largest job cuts came in the eastern U.S., where more than half of all federal civilian employees work.

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