Officials say recruiting efforts will offset retirement wave

Federal officials told House lawmakers this week that stepped-up recruiting efforts will mitigate the effects of an anticipated wave of employee retirements.

As droves of civil service baby boomers near retirement, the government has become increasingly concerned about replacing the core of its workforce, especially in the face of competition from the private sector. The most pessimistic reports say that as much as 70 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire by 2010.

But Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James and Reginald Wells, chief human capital officer for the Social Security Administration, said at a House hearing that the creation of agency human capital officer positions last year, and efforts to step up recruitment programs with quicker hiring, more benefits and better pay are helping address recruiting problems.

In response to concerns raised by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., James touted agencies' success in attracting applicants. She cited the 15,000 attendees at an April federal job fair in New York City as proof that the civil service remains an attractive option for job hunters. Norton, however, questioned whether this outlook would be so bright in a better job market. "You're going to get people, [because] there is unemployment," the lawmaker said.

In response to Norton's skepticism, James told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization that OPM is studying the quality of its applicant pool and plans to relay its findings to the subcommittee when they are complete.

James described a target federal employee job applicant as someone with outstanding academic achievement, leadership ability and who has participated in service to the community. A commitment to public service and "making a difference," James said, was particularly important because it enabled the government to compete with the allure of higher salaries and benefits from the private sector.

In addition, James emphasized that agencies should send only people with hiring authority to job fairs: "Do not send hostesses to hiring fairs-people to hand out key chains and brochures," she said. James noted that applicants often wait in line for hours and are there for jobs, not agency propaganda. On-the-spot hiring would help the government combat the ability of private companies to hire qualified applicants first, she said.

According to Wells, baby-boomer retirements have already begun and, so far, Social Security has filled those and other vacancies with little trouble. "Knock on wood, but we've been very successful," he said.

While Wells and James did not address the issue of recruiting mid-career private-sector employees, the subcommittee made amendments to the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act later Tuesday. The revisions allow managers and employees more flexibility and are designed to attract higher-quality government workers. The amendments included allowing agencies to award bonuses more easily, giving employees time off for traveling during off-duty hours and added vacation benefits to employees who join the civil service mid-career, among other provisions. The ability of the government to recruit mid-career employees has been an ongoing concern.

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