Biden Wants to Grow the Federal Workforce to Its Highest Level Since WWII. These Agencies Would Make the Biggest Gains.
Several agencies have particularly ambitious growth plans; just one major agency is proposing workforce cuts.
The Biden administration is looking to add 82,000 employees in fiscal 2024, a 3.6% increase that would bring civilian federal rolls to their highest levels since World War II.
Nearly every federal agency would receive a funding boost in President Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget, and all but one major agency is anticipating adding staff as a result. Some of the hiring is still aimed at making up for losses sustained during Obama-era budget caps and Trump-era targeted reductions, though much of it is for implementing major new initiatives Biden has ushered into law like the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure measure Congress approved in 2021.
“As we release the President’s FY 2024 Budget, we are proud of the mission-driven investments it makes in the federal government’s most important asset—our people,” Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja said in a blog post Monday.
They noted 26 agencies have stood up “talent teams” to expand hiring capacity through shared, interagency recruiting efforts and that the budget includes funding to sustain “well-resourced human capital functions.” Republicans are already pushing back on most of the proposals and the administration will have to negotiate over final appropriations levels.
Here is a look at every agency’s hiring plans and detailed explanations for some of the most significant initiatives.
Treasury, and Not Just IRS: The Treasury Department would see the biggest workforce spike of any major agency under Biden’s blueprint, which is driven primarily by the Internal Revenue Service. The tax agency would see a surge of 13,000 net new employees in fiscal 2024, after growing by 6,000 workers in the current fiscal year. All told, that would bring IRS to nearly 100,000 employees, an increase of 21% over fiscal 2022. Much of that hiring would stem from the $80 billion cash infusion Congress provided under the Inflation Reduction Act, though IRS said it needs increases to its base appropriations to support implementation of that law. Treasury headquarters is also seeking to grow significantly, seeking an 18% increase to its departmental offices workforce. The department said the hiring would help it rebuild its capacity—to set strategy and engage in “critical policy work,” among other responsibilities—after it was “eroded” in recent years.
Veterans Benefits: As is typical, the Veterans Affairs Department requested funding for the highest total number of net new employees, seeking a boost of 20,000 workers. Most of those would go to increasing its health care personnel, but this year VA is looking for an unprecedented jolt to its Veterans Benefits Administration staffing. Congress recently made as many as 5 million veterans newly eligible for VA care and benefits and VBA is looking to staff up to accommodate the upcoming surge in work. Charles Tapp, the Veterans Benefits Administration’s chief financial officer, told reporters last week that his component is looking to net 6,000 employees in fiscal 2024. Its previous record was 2,000, but the agency has already surpassed 2,200 in the current fiscal year. Dedicated hiring fairs, expanded hiring pools as a result of remote work and pay flexibilities provided by Congress have made the target more realistic, Tapp said.
Land Management: The National Park Service would see its workforce increase by 7%, or nearly 1,400 employees, to upgrade infrastructure, work on conservation efforts and implement laws such as the Great American Outdoors Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Observers have long bemoaned reduced capacity at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Biden administration is looking to increase staffing there by more than 10% to investigate wildlife crimes, conduct habitat restoration and other conservation efforts, and improve visitor services. The Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service is looking to grow by 17% to conduct more climate research and expand its climate hubs to “understand how natural resource conditions on working lands are affected by climate change.” Lamenting that the Trump administration left Interior with its lowest workforce levels in a decade, the department said it is making efforts throughout its components to regrow its staff. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would see its workforce climb by 10%. Its inspector general’s office would grow by 20%.
Federal Firefighting: As wildfires increasingly devastate western communities every year, the Biden administration is once again looking to grow its permanent firefighting workforce. The Agriculture Department is requesting a staffing boost at the Forest Service of 6,200 employees. Its overall wildland fire management funding would increase by 40% and it is asking for $50 million to support housing initiatives for its firefighting personnel who are asked to live in remote locations. Interior would increase its wildfire funding by 17% and boost its firefighting staffing by 10%. Both USDA and Interior are pushing for additional reforms to permanently boost the pay of those personnel after the infrastructure law already provided some increases. The two departments also are teaming up to develop improvements to their mental and physical health care offerings.
“These investments in the federal wildland fire management workforce take another significant step forward in ongoing efforts to build a more robust, year-round workforce that is better aligned to meet the challenges of today’s wildfire activity, which are expected to continue to increase due to climate change,” USDA said.
Labor: Biden is once again planning to significantly ramp up operations at the Labor Department, which is anticipating a 7% workforce increase in fiscal 2023. It plans to add to that with a 9% boost for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a 25% surge at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a 26% spike at the Wage and Hour Division and a 31% addition at the Employee Benefits Security Administration. The Wage and Hour Division would be able to “rebuild” its workforce with a “robust” hiring surge, while retaining employees through a pay grade restructuring. The contract compliance office is planning for a larger workload under the infrastructure law, saying that more federal contracts will require the office to “strengthen its capacity to ensure that these landmark federal investments create good jobs that provide equal opportunity to all.” The benefits administration said it wants to conduct more enforcement and improve its current rate of one investigator for every 12,000 employee benefit plans.
Antitrust: The Justice Department said the expanding globalization of markets, increasing consolidation across industries and technological changes have upended the marketplace and significantly affected the Antitrust Division's workload. It is asking for a whopping 35% workforce increase as part of its request to triple the funding for the typically primarily fee-funded component. To complement that effort, the Federal Trade Commission is looking to grow its workforce by 22%. Elsewhere in Justice, its Executive Office of Immigration Review—which houses the nation’s immigration courts—is looking to net 1,000 new employees, a 23% increase.
Rebuilding the Environmental Protection Agency: The agency is looking to add 1,900 full-time equivalent employees, marking a 16% increase from 2022, which the White House said was necessary to offset staffing reductions under the previous administration that “continue to undermine the agency’s ability to carry out its mission.” By the end of fiscal 2023, EPA anticipates it will have grown its workforce by 6% since Biden took office. EPA is taking on a slew of new responsibilities under the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Targeted DHS Hiring: Democrats repeatedly stymied President Trump’s efforts to significantly scale up staffing at the Homeland Security Department’s border security agencies, but Biden is taking a different approach. After Congress funded the first increase of Border Patrol agents in more than a decade as part of the fiscal 2023 omnibus, the budget would support 350 new agents in fiscal 2024 and 460 processing assistants. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as its Enforcement and Removals Operations office, would see staffing increases of 5%. Elsewhere in the department, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would see an 11% bump to its rolls and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would grow by 10%.
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