Praise for agencies may not translate into new recruits

Despite significant increases in public support for the federal government since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, federal officials continue to face a steep challenge in attracting well-educated government workers, according to surveys conducted by the polling firm Hart-Teeter before and after Sept. 11.

Asked to rate their interest in taking a federal government job, only 16 percent of college-educated respondents rated it a 9 or a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. That's about half the level of interest found among those who lacked a college degree.

At the same time, only 17 percent of respondents currently employed in professional and managerial occupations rated their interest as a 9 or 10, compared to 35 percent of blue-collar workers.

While 71 percent of those surveyed in the October poll believed that the federal government responded to the terrorist attacks "very well" and another 20 percent said it responded "fairly well," the survey found that interest in entering the federal workforce did not automatically follow.

A full 75 percent of respondents said that their interest in working for the federal government remained the same after Sept. 11, another 5 percent said it had declined, and only 18 percent said it had increased.

"These results suggest that the federal recruitment problem remains as substantial as it was prior to the terrorist attacks," Hart-Teeter concluded.

The survey found that people focused on personal advancement goals found private business opportunities to be superior. College graduates said they believe that jobs in private business are better when it comes to offering interesting and challenging work (40 percent, compared to 9 percent for government), rewarding outstanding performance (62 percent compared to 5 percent), and allowing employees to take initiative (69 percent to 3 percent).

At the same time, those who say they want to contribute to society increasingly favor the nonprofit sector. By a margin of 52 percent to 10 percent, respondents said that non-profit organizations offer a better opportunity than the government when it comes to contributing to society and making a difference.

The one bright spot for federal recruitment is that people aged 18-29 said they felt more positively toward federal employment than older workers did.

The survey results are to be announced at today's launch of the Partnership for Public Service, a $25-million-plus private-sector effort designed to aid the recruitment of a new generation of government officials.

The surveys were sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and the Council for Excellence in Government. The first survey of 1,018 respondents was done between July 31 and Aug. 8 and included adults who are employed, looking for work or attending school and who do not currently work for the federal government. The margin of error was ±3.1 percent.

The second survey of 800 similar respondents was conducted from Oct. 12-14. Its margin of error was ±3.5 percent.

Organizers of the launch said they were expecting Senate Governmental Affairs Committee member George Voinovich, R-Ohio, to use the occasion to formally propose legislation requiring agencies and departments to appoint chief human resources officers, and promoting student loan forgiveness for graduates who enter government service.