Getting Ready for the Retirement Tsunami: Linda Springer, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Discusses What the Federal Government Needs to Do before Its Retirement Peak in 2008-10

Article excerpt

Forget brain drain, talent takeoff, or retirement wave when speaking of the future of federal human resources management. Those words don't adequately describe the situation anymore. The federal government is facing a retirement tsunami in the next few years, and new programs--and better ways of thinking--are required now to solve the problem.

That was the message from Linda M. Springer, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), at a standing-room-only forum on January 31, 2006, sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government and The Washington Post. The session, part of an ongoing series, Taking the Leap: Innovation and Results for a New Public Service, featured top thinkers and doers from the federal sector's personnel policy and program arenas at an on-the-record discussion.

Springer was a logical and provocative guest for such a forum. Before she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the nation's eighth director of OPM, she served as controller at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and head of the Office of Federal Financial Management. During her tenure at OMB, the federal government's year-end financial reporting time was reduced from five months to forty-five days, and she established a Sarbanes-Oxley equivalent internal control assurance requirement for federal agencies, directed the development of an executive order to ensure efficient and effective management of federal real property assets, and oversaw the first comprehensive assessment of all federal government expenditures for risk of improper payment. Before joining the Bush administration, she spent more than twenty-five years in the private sector, primarily in the financial services industry.

According to Springer, 60 percent of the federal government's General Schedule employees--and 90 percent of the Senior Executive Service--will be eligible to retire in the next ten years. "That's not just normal turnover, that's pick it up and walk out the door." OPM projects that the "tsunami," as Springer describes it, will crest in 2008-10. In the future, she sees a very different federal workforce. "It will be much more diverse," she told Patricia McGinnis of the Council for Excellence in Government, who moderated the discussion at The Washington Post building. "When I say diverse, I mean not just diverse in the traditional sense, but in the number of dimensions, and that's what I think you'd like me to talk about."

Indeed. The director had much to say on a variety of issues confronting and affecting the federal workforce. Here are some highlights.

Federal Career Patterns

"By career patterns, we mean the type of working relationship that will be defined by several different dimensions and will not just be the 'traditional' relationship--come and stay for your whole career, come early and stay for twenty, thirty, forty years. That will be one of many different types of patterns. So the first step is to identify what the potential patterns will be because we don't want to be caught by surprise. We want to plan for those patterns. And candidly, each of those types of patterns and relationships adds a particular type of value to the federal workforce. We don't want to be one-dimensional. We want to have the benefit of what those different types of relationships and people that are in those types of patterns can give to the federal government effort.

"Let me give you some examples. The people who have been [in government] a long time most likely came early in their career. They bring a certain type of value proposition to their position. You get someone early on, you have the opportunity for them to grow up and be really steeped from the very beginning in the government's way of doing things, and there's value in that. Someone who comes mid-career ... is probably looking for something different--they're not looking necessarily for the same type of training. …