Federal hiring to decline in fiscal 2012, group says

Federal hiring will decline next year, leaving most agencies with smaller staffs as they lose funds to fill empty positions, according to government observers.

New estimates from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service show the government is likely to hire approximately 102,500 employees in fiscal 2012, a decline of more than 30,000 to 40,000 in annual hiring compared to fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2010.

The majority of new hires are expected to replace existing employees who leave federal service, resulting in a smaller workforce overall, said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership. The estimate also negates a provision in President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget calling for an increase in government staff, he added.

According to McManus, health care professionals and benefit claims processing staff at the Veterans Affairs Department are likely to be areas of growth, as are cybersecurity and law enforcement positions at the Homeland Security Department. Most agencies will see a reduction in staffing as they are unable to backfill positions due to budget constraints, he said.

The Partnership also released a study showing that 75.3 percent of new government workers under the age of 30 are happy with their jobs and agencies compared to just two-thirds of all federal employees. In addition, job satisfaction declines as employee tenure increases, with workers under 30 with more than three years of federal service scoring their satisfaction at just 68.7 percent, according to the report.

New young employees at VA reported the highest satisfaction at 90.3 percent, followed closely by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and NASA at 88.8 percent and 87.5 percent, respectively. The Housing and Urban Development Department brought up the rear, with just 47.6 percent of employees reporting that they are satisfied with their jobs. The Education and Army departments also placed at the bottom of the list, coming in at 64.3 and 68.9 percent, respectively.

VA had the biggest gap in satisfaction scores between new young employees and more seasoned workers at 26.7 percent. At HUD, satisfaction was 9.5 points higher for older employees compared to emerging professionals. According to McManus, agencies need to determine what causes the drop in satisfaction in order to retain talent, especially as hiring patterns change.

"In any other relationship, if satisfaction drops off that dramatically, you've not only ended your honeymoon, you've ended your marriage at that point," McManus said. "The caution [for agencies] is why then after three years that the honeymoon period ends? Is it a slope or a cliff, and why is that and how do we help to build that relationship so they have equal satisfaction?"

Effective agency leadership, including employees' views of individual supervisors, plays a critical role in the satisfaction scores for emerging professionals, the report found. Empowerment and the ability to take initiative on the job; pay; and training and development opportunities also are important to new employees. Retention is higher for satisfied workers than those who are unhappy with their agencies or jobs, according to the Partnership.

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