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Government still faces challenges attracting students to public service

It's a familiar refrain: public service is not a popular career choice among today's student population.

“We found that 41% of American youth have never considered going into the military,” Joseph Heck, a member of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, said during a recent webinar hosted by the Brookings Institution.

The demographics are well known: just 6% of the federal workforce is 30 years of age or younger, while a sizeable amount are eligible for retirement, including 45% to 55% of IRS workers. At the same time, commission members worry that recent events such as the 35-day government shutdown over the winter of 2018-2019 have soured students on civil service careers.

The commission published a report in March that included proposals designed to inspire "significantly more people … to answer the call to serve," with five million people occupying some military, civilian or other public service role by 2031.

"We've seen quite a decline in popular opinion in public service for some time. The nadir was the [government] furloughs during last year's shutdown," Heck said.

"There’s a popular conception that the federal government is this large apparatus, with lots of waste and bloat,” senior Brookings fellow Fiona Hill said at the May 4 webinar. She cited a Pew Research Center poll that showed only 17% of respondents in 2019 trusted the federal government "always or most of the time."

However, fellow commissioner Avril Haines added that there were signs that the coronavirus pandemic may be engendering positive views of public servants.

She cited a recent poll from the Pew Research Center that showed 77% of respondents had a positive view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 70% had a favorable view of the Department of Health and Human Services. Both agencies have been at the forefront in coordinating the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

Haines added that expanding public service would require serious revamping of current recruitment practices.

"It's critical to have a more flexible personnel system that's based on talent management, as opposed to the current structure we have," she said.

Reader comments

Mon, May 11, 2020

After a stellar career in the federal government of 32 years, the past two were horrible regarding inept, back stabbing, self-serving, corrupt, two-faced managers that had to be dealt with on a daily basis. They cheated on telework, time cards and thought they were entitled to it. On the other hand if a staff member was a few minutes late because of traffic issues, the inept management minions would treat them adversely when it came to performance reviews. This was not the case for the management who never had to account for their time and attendance. Also those hard working folks who were a few minutes late, often worked many extra hours for no additional compensation. I advise young folks that civil service today may be a good option possibly after one gains experience in the private sector. Neither civil service or private industry is a panacea, since management mentality is to use and drive people out, then add additional work load to other employees without any compensation. The managers then write themselves up for hefty bonuses based on bogus additional responsibilities.

Fri, May 8, 2020

Who in their wisdom would want to work for such an adverse employer. The retirement system is a target for destruction both by the democrats and republicans. The phony democratic administration allowed for three years of frozen cost of living adjustments, less retirement benefits etc. They are responsible for government wide shutdowns. The republican administrations have demonized federal employees and civil service. Both parties have destroyed what was a functional system that hired individuals who wanted to serve their country. Today because of lousy management this situation has deteriorated beyond repair. The big outfit in Bethesda is a prime example of what poor management and inept political parties have done.

Wed, May 6, 2020

When young people have a view of government greatly influenced by the Trump administration and its abuse of federal employees — particularly scientists — it’s not surprising that there is a problem attracting new employees. I spent over 30 rewarding years as a Fed, but I doubt I would make that career choice now.

Wed, May 6, 2020 Anastasia Schmoll

The reason is that there is no priority hiring by the time the process actually starts. The target is within 12 months but the announcement closes after the 12 month time frame has expired. My son has a math degree and has applications in USAJobs but none have closed yet and it’s been over two years so he will not qualify for the recent graduate

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2020 Digital Almanac

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