News Column

Retiring Minds

March 2005, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Joel Russell


During the next five years, the federal government must increase its recruitment of mid-career managers and professionals. Diversity and advocacy groups see this as an opportunity to increase the number of Hispanics in the federal work place. But without reforms, Hispanic professionals may not connect with suitable government jobs.

Those conclusions come from two recent documents: "Mid-Career Hiring: Revisiting the Search for Seasoned Talent in the Federal Government," published by the Partnership for Public Service, and "National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives 2004-2008 Strategic Plan," from the NAHFE. Both the Partnership and NAHFE are nonprofit organizations with headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Partnership report cites recent projections from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that 31.7 percent of full-time federal employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years. "Retirement eligibility levels among mid-career workers are even higher," the report states. "The impending retirement crunch facing all of government will hit mid-career levels hardest."

Traditionally, government has filled managerial positions by promoting from within. According to the report, nearly 85 percent of all mid-career level federal jobs (GS 12-15) were filled internally in 2003. But the report questions whether the system has enough up-and-coming talent to fill the managerial ranks or whether internal promotion best serves the public interest.

According to the 9/11 commission, "the FBI's tradition of hiring analysts from clerical positions within, instead of recruiting individuals with relevant education, background and experience," was one of the reasons the United States failed to thwart the 9/11 terror attacks.

From a diversity perspective, the coming retirement wave presents an opportunity to improve diversity in the federal government's higher salary ranks. "Looking outside government may also be a powerful tool to improve diversity among agency managers, an area in need of attention considering that Hispanics are under-represented in the civil service, making up 7 percent of the federal work force and filling only 4.3 percent of high-level government jobs," the report states. Currently, Hispanics represent more than 13 percent of the U.S. population and 12.4 percent of the civilian labor force, based on Census and Labor Department statistics.

Retirement already has affected Hispanic representation in government, according to the NAHFE Strategic Plan. A June 2003 report to the president showed that in FY2002, federal agencies hired 13,385 Hispanics. But the same report claims the number of Hispanic employees rose only 6,151. "This discrepancy indicates the possibility that 7,234 Hispanics left government service," the NAHFE plan states.

The lack of Hispanics in the professional ranks of federal agencies affects more than government workers. From a policy standpoint, it leaves the Hispanic constituency with less influence. According to the plan, "For Hispanics to achieve parity at the decision-making tables in the federal work force, NAHFE proposes a significant increase in the number of Hispanics at the senior executive and management levels."

Plenty of obstacles stand between future federal job openings and qualified candidates. A survey by the Partnership for Public Service found that with age, private-sector workers grow more reluctant to work for the government. In the study, only 49 percent of mid-career professionals said they were "interested in working for the government," compared with 65 percent of college students and recent college graduates. Also, 78 percent of mid-career professionals believed "the federal government work place is in desperate need of reform to make it a better place for people to work."

Any job-seeker can search for a federal position on the Web by visiting www.Jobs By law, all jobs, whether open to the public or limited to federal employees, must be posted on the site. However, the announcements often appear in government-speak that trained professionals don't understand. The Partnership study emphasizes that the government must better market its jobs to mid-career executives unfamiliar with the vernacular and systems of the federal work place.

One common perception is that federal jobs don't pay as well as private sector ones, especially in professional careers. But the report notes that the departments of Homeland Security and Defense are currently implementing more market-based pay systems for their employees. In addition, Congress recently addressed the pay compression problem for the Senior Executive Service.

The Partnership report spotlights standard recruitment tactics the federal government should use to lure professionals, including shortening the hiring process and offering recruitment bonuses and relocation expenses for specialized positions. But to cope with the looming talent gap, the report concludes "outside recruitment should complement, not replace, the prevailing practice in the federal government of 'growing' management talent from within."

•Partnership for Public Service:

•National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives:
•2004-2008 Strategic Plan:


Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters