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More than 60% of Recent Federal Employee Hires Left Within Two Years

Government should better track retention data to determine why employees, particularly disabled employees, leave at such a high rate, watchdog finds.

About 60% of federal employees hired in recent years left their jobs within two years, according to a new report that focused on hiring and retention of individuals with disabilities. 

The disabled population within federal government followed a similar path between fiscal years 2011 and 2017, the Government Accountability Office found, with roughly 60% also leaving within two years. This means while agencies have improved their hiring rates of disabled individuals, they have failed to ensure those employees stick around. 

President Obama issued an executive order in 2010 that set a goal of hiring 100,000 people from the larger disabled community within five years, a target the federal government reached in 2016. All told, federal agencies hired 223,000 disabled individuals between 2011 and 2017. Democratic lawmakers last year raised concerns with the Trump administration, however, citing statistics that federal agencies were not hiring enough disabled Americans and were firing their disabled employees at a disproportionate rate.

The rate of disabled hiring has increased steadily since Obama’s order, and in fiscal 2017 reached nearly 20% of all hires. Of the 223,000 disabled employees, however, nearly 40% stayed in government for less than one year. Another 19% left within two years. 

The high rate of early departures for both disabled and non-disabled employees, GAO said, could be reflected in part by the nature of the jobs for which they were hired. 

“These departures may be explained, in part, by the proportion of employees hired into temporary positions who therefore were not necessarily expected to stay on the job for a longer duration,” the auditors said, adding poor performance could also be a factor. 

Disabled employees were more likely to be hired at a lower level. About 52% of disabled workers started in a General Schedule-10 position or below, compared to 45% of employees without disabilities. Both groups of employees were more likely to stay the higher their rank was. 

GAO called on federal agencies to better track why so many employees are leaving so quickly and draw lessons from that data in order to “better target its retention efforts as appropriate to potentially reduce such early departures.” It said the Office of Personnel Management should specifically report such data for disabled employees to better illustrate what is happening governmentwide. OPM does not track or report retention data on employees with disabilities, GAO said, despite having the capacity to do so. Such information could "help inform both agency-specific and governmentwide assessments of how the federal government is performing with retaining the employees it hires," the report said. 

Obama's executive order and subsequent guidance specifically required OPM to assist agencies with developing strategies for retaining disabled employees and called on agencies to conduct internal reviews to ensure they measure the impact of their policies on retaining disabled employees. 

GAO noted that OPM already gathers the requisite data, but proactively reporting and analyzing it would help agencies across government. Without it, federal managers are limited in their ability to assess the effectiveness of their hiring and retention efforts for all the employees in their workforces. 

“Such analyses could provide a fuller picture of how the federal government is performing with retaining the employees it hires, help identify common agency experiences—both successes and challenges—and assist in pinpointing the root causes that contribute to retention rates of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce,” GAO said.   

OPM agreed with GAO's recommendation to "routinely track and report retention data" for employees with disabilities, and to make it available to federal agencies.