Federal workforce growing older, not adding enough young workers, survey finds

Federal workers are growing older and older, on average, according to surveys. Researchers warn that the federal sector needs to bring in more young blood, or the agencies' operational effectiveness will suffer.
By Tyler Henderson | Oct 02, 2017
Federal employees are on average growing steadily older, according to a Politico analysis, which finds that only 17% of the federal workforce is less than 35 years old and that more than a quarter are over 55. Researchers inside and outside government expressed concern that many agencies will not be able to replace highly skilled older employees when they retire and that the agencies will become less and less effective.

The researchers also warned that offices staffed mostly with older workers may have more overhead costs and lower productivity due to senior workers' more-expensive health-care needs. Federal agencies need to update their hiring and job-training policies to encourage more young people to take up federal jobs and move up in them, the researchers said.

"It's not so much a matter that old people are stupid and young people are smart," said Don Kettl, a professor at the University of Maryland who has written extensively on government management. "It's that smart agencies develop a plan for a pipeline. The federal government's biggest problem is it's not very good at pipeline planning."

The age shift is more pronounced at some agencies than others, the survey also found. Workers over 45 are 69% of NASA's workforce, for example, and 70% of that of Housing and Urban Development.

Surveys of private-sector employees find that they are aging, also, but the trend is not as stark. Around 40% of private-sector employees are under 35, versus the 35% of federal workers cited above. And workers under 24 years of age constitute 13% of the private sector but only 1.2% of the federal sector.


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