Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Human Capital Management in Government: Replacing Government Retirees

Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Human Capital Management in Government: Replacing Government Retirees

Article excerpt


The government workforce at all levels is expected to shrink substantially over the next 10 years, driven by retirements of an aging civil servant population, reductions in pay causing workers to look elsewhere, and reallocation of positions (Rusaw, 2004; Ortiz, 2009). The numbers could be staggering, with up to half of senior civil servants retiring depending on the agency, level of government, and pundit-making predictions. This trend, while slowed by current economic challenges, is obvious from Federal departments to local special purpose districts; no government entity is immune. In light of this trend, there will be a significant drain of knowledge about efficacy in government processes due to retirements, and incoming leaders may not be well-prepared to step up to the activities required for effective practices.

Labeled as a brain drain (Kleeman, 2008) or in a more alarmist fashion a tsunami (Mancias, 2008), the outflow of government workers is complicated by previous efforts of government agencies and departments to reduce the size of government. Several factors have exacerbated the drain of knowledge: middle management positions left unfilled, jobs cut due to privatized or outsourced functions and processes, and less spent on training and development of those who remain (Rusaw, 2004). Institutional memory is being lost about how processes have evolved and where best to allocate scarce resources. Perhaps the alarmists are right in worrying that the government leaders of the future are not receiving preparation on how to lead in the scope of their current duties.


The lack of preparation of civil servants for promotion is not simply a recent phenomenon. Malek (1974) stated that development of public executives could not be perceived as only a passing fad, and that the failure of appointed officials to offer opportunities for careerists to develop their skills was largely to blame. In the mid-1970's, projected retirements were trending upwards with half of both Federal executives and middle managers who could be promoted eligible to leave civil service (Malek, 1974). The military was the one government agency deemed to be taking an active stance on preparation for advancement among its ranks.

Today the problem is the same, but much larger. By the 1990's, the then-named U. S. General Accounting Office (GAO) called for action on programs that would allow aging workers to take trial retirements or reduce hours of service to maintain some continuity and training opportunities for younger workers (GAO, 1993). Reality did not offer any chances for failure, because Baby Boomers would be retiring and Generation X which follows is considerably smaller.

More than 10 years later, the news became more dire. Greenfield (2007) noted that based on 2006 Census data 69 percent of Federal workers, 60 percent of state workers and almost 64 percent of local government workers were over the age of 40 (p. 1). Based on standard retirement calculations, this large cadre is either eligible to retire already or will be within the next 10 years.

Further, the positions themselves are changing, with a greater proportion of government positions requiring more knowledge workers with different education, skills, expertise and training than in decades past. Almost half of all civilian federal positions and more than two thirds of state and local government positions require a new breed of knowledge worker (Greenfield, 2007, p. 3). Knowledge workers in the private sector can earn 15-25 percent more than in similar government positions, shrinking the field of possible workers further (p. 5).

The Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) projects that almost 4% of the Federal civilian workforce will retire each year for the next 10 years (OPM, 2008, p. 6). If the accuracy of past projections is any indication, this will mean that by 2016 less than 24% of the workers who were employed by the Federal government in 2006 will still be there. …

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