The loss of experienced personnel is one of the surest ways to undercut an organization's effectiveness. When this loss occurs rapidly and is concentrated in critical positions, the results can be devastating. The departure of top-level employees at the Federal Emergency Management Agency is often cited as a key reason it struggled to respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina. Similar brain drains are likely to occur across government as 44 percent of all federal workers become eligible to retire over the next five years, with 61 percent reaching eligibility four years later.The references to FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are particularly worrisome.
Large-scale turnover. The federal government is particularly vulnerable to the coming baby boomer retirements. While the average age of the American worker has increased over the past decade, the federal civil service has twice as many workers over age 45 (60 percent) as the private sector (31 percent). According to U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) estimates, among all full-time permanent employees in the federal workforce as of October 2004, 58 percent of supervisory and 42 percent of non-supervisory workers will be eligible to retire by the end of FY 2010. In addition to these retirements, well over 200,000 federal employees are expected to resign over the next five years, resulting in a potential loss of nearly 900,000 workers.
Loss of key employees. The impact on government effectiveness will be compounded by the concentration of turnover in high-level and hard-to-staff positions with specialized skills:
- 40 percent of Department of Homeland Security managers and program analysts will reach retirement eligibility by 2009.
- 42 percent of the Senior Executive Service is projected to retire by 2010.
- 87 percent of claims assistants and examiners in the Social Security Administration and 94 percent of their administrative law judges will reach retirement eligibility by 2010.
- The Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic controller attrition rates are estimated to triple by 2012.