Size of civilian federal workforce increases, but more feds eligible to retire

Thursday - 1/30/2014, 2:03pm EST

Robert Goldenkoff, Director of Strategic Issues, GAO

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The number of civilians in the federal workforce increased from 1.88 million in 2004 to 2.13 million in 2012, with three agencies — the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — accounting for 94 percent of that growth.

These are some of the findings in a new report from the Government Accountability Office entitled Federal Workforce: Recent Trends in Federal Civilian Employment and Compensation.

"At DOD, officials said that converting certain positions from military to civilian, as well as the growth of the agency's acquisition and cybersecurity workforce, contributed to this overall increase," the report stated. "At VA, officials said the increased demand for medical and health-related services for military veterans drove most of the growth in personnel levels. DHS officials said the increase in employment was due in large part to the nation's border security requirements."

Across the government, the majority of the increases from 2004 to 2012 were in areas of employment that required a higher skill and education level, such as professional or administrative positions, rather than more blue-collar type jobs, which remained stable.

GAO also found that retirement remained flat — at about 3.5 percent — from 2004 to December 2007, when the recession began. Retirement rates then dropped off to around 2.5 percent during the recession in 2009, followed by a return to pre-recession rates in 2011 and 2012.

"With respect to retirement eligibility, of the 1.96 million permanent career employees on board as of September 2012, nearly 270,000 (14 percent) were eligible to retire," the report said. "By September 2017, nearly 600,000 (around 31 percent) will be eligible to retire, government-wide."

As in earlier reports, GAO pointed out that large numbers of retirement-eligible employees in the federal government could be a cause for concern in the future.

"Strategic human capital planning that is integrated with broader organizational strategic planning will be essential for ensuring that — going forward — agencies have the talent, skill, and experience mix they need to cost- effectively execute their mission and program goals," the report said.

Governmentwide spending on compensation for full-time equivalent (FTE) positions grew at an average rate of 1.2 percent per year, starting at $106,097 in 2004 and ending at $116,828 in 2012. GAO credited much of that growth to an increase in the cost of personnel benefits at a rate of 1.9 percent per year.

"In terms of employee pay per FTE, spending rose at an average annual rate of 1 percent per year (a 7.9 percent increase overall)," the report said. "However, as a proportion of governmentwide federal discretionary spending, spending on compensation remained constant from 2004 to 2010 (at 14 percent), with slight increases in 2011 and 2012."

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