SEA Federal Workforce Study
Has the U.S. Federal Government reached a point where critical operations might fail in stressful events that are likely to occur? This was this project’s animating question. Based on the data collected in this study, it appears the answer to these critical questions is yes. A weakening in the capacity of the government’s workforce and its organizational structures is plainly evident, and so is a perceptible loss of collective resilience to detect and respond to adverse events. To test this conclusion, this study considered workforce trends given several dozen potential scenarios, ranging between those that are virtually certain to occur in the next year to other scenarios that are highly plausible in the near term. The U.S. Executive Branch has hardly grown in fifty years – there were 1.8 million civilian employees in 1960, and 2.1 million in 2017.1,2 Yet over the same period the amount of money spent by the federal government has grown fivefold. To be sure, contracts and grants have filled part of the gap, but, still, both the amount and range of work required of the federal workforce has continued to go up, just as the scope 1“Executive Branch Civilian Employment since 1940,” U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2014, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/dataanalysis-documentation/federal-employmentreports/historical-tables/executive-branch-civilianemployment-since-1940/ 2Valdez, Bill, “Theory and Practice in Federal Government Executive Branch Leadership and Administration,” in The Handbook of Federal Government Leadership and Administration, eds. Rosenbloom, Malone and Valdez, New York: Routledge, 2016. 3“FedScope: Federal Human Resources Data,” U.S. Office of Personnel Management, last modified May, and complexity of executive branch functions have also increased.2 Several examples underscore just how bad the problem is: • Almost 20 percent of the government’s top managers, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), departed in the first twelve months of the current administration, and numbers have not fully recovered. In December of 2016 there were 8,281 Senior Executives. 1,506 of those SES members left government during 2017. New additions made up ground, but in December of 2017 a deficit of 377 SES members remained compared to one year prior.3 • Less than 6 percent of the federal workforce is under 30 years of age — there are five-fold more Federal workers over 60 than under 30.4 • The last major revision to the civil service rules for recruiting, hiring and retention of the Federal workforce was 40 years ago, a time that predates the Internet. Looking at these staffing dynamics across agencies, the prospects are even bleaker. 2018, https://www.fedscope.opm.gov/. FedScope data exclude Foreign Service Officers, Department of Defense uniformed branches, and Intelligence Community Data. Hence, Foreign Service Officer data was gathered from the American Foreign Service Association as a supplement. 4“Full-Time Permanent Age Distribution,” U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2017, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/dataanalysis-documentation/federal-employmentreports/reports-publications/full-time-permanent-agedistributions/.