Retirement rate could begin to affect service delivery

A nonprofit organization warned this week that if federal agencies do not move quickly to recruit new employees and retain experienced ones, impending retirements could affect the services Americans receive from government.

"We hope that federal agencies will act before that becomes a reality," said Bob Lavigna, vice president for research at the Partnership for Public Service. For example, he said, "When you look at the Social Security Administration, at the same time the 78 million baby boomers are beginning to retire and the [agency is] going to be called on to serve those folks, they are looking at relatively high levels of retirement."

The Partnership reported that between fiscal 2002 and 2006, annual separations from federal service -- which included employees who retired, left to seek other work or died on the job -- increased from 5 percent to 6.7 percent. A little more than 30,000 people retired in fiscal 2002, while 45,000 left in 2006.

In particular, the Office of Personnel Management projected significant retirements at a number of agencies where the workload was increasing. OPM estimates that one third of the nation's air traffic controllers, 24 percent of SSA employees and 19 percent of contracting officers governmentwide will retire by 2012. Those retirements could add to already-mounting flight delays, slow processing of Social Security claims, and delay approval of the growing number of government contracts.

OPM also estimated that there will be significant leadership gaps in agencies. Projections indicate that 36 percent of Senior Executive Service members will retire by 2012 and 76 percent of SESers will be eligible to retire. In addition, 27 percent of supervisors will leave government by 2012, OPM says.

Lavigna said he thought it was important that agencies move beyond general fears about impending retirements to pinpoint where their greatest needs will be and to craft specific strategies to address impending shortfalls.

But, he said, the public needs to be engaged as well. The Partnership's next annual report will focus on the ways the federal government affects Americans' day-to-day lives, and Lavigna said the organization has considered doing more outreach to the general public.

"Heading off this brain drain will require federal agencies to aggressively recruit a new generation of top talent at all levels, will require Congress to conduct much-needed oversight and consider legislative reforms, and will require the American public to hold government accountable for addressing its workforce needs," the Partnership said in announcing its report.

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