Challenge ahead: Rebuilding civil service

Surveys, news stories and other telling reports issued in recent years have laid bare a troubling reality: that key parts of the federal civil service are low on personnel—and morale.

And, according to experts and whitepapers quoted in a new report on, the recently inaugurated Biden administration now faces the necessity, and daunting task, of turning things around—that is, to actually top up staff numbers as well as federal employee engagement.

The Marketplace analysis covers a wide sweep of agencies, pointing out that parts of the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Agriculture, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the State Department and other agencies have seen an acceleration of employee separations and retirements over the past few years. Experts and former employees quoted say the trend was in part due to workplace and compensation downgrades that inspired many to leave government service—and that those that remain with damaged morale.

The piece riffs on research by the Partnership for Public Service and others in seeing a tough task ahead for the current White House and its heads of departments. But it sees a possible silver lining for the new administration: it can recruit from a willing and seasoned bench of leaders and managers who served previously, when the president was vice president.

Reader comments

Sat, Mar 13, 2021

To all that believe Feds can effective Telework, then you don't know squat about the Federal Law Enforcement Agencies like the FBI who's IT systems are classified, meaning they cannot bring a laptop home and access Secret or Top Secret data. Unless they are Hillary Clinton, lol. So before you make statements that Feds can do their job at home, get all of the facts.

Fri, Mar 12, 2021 SC

I worked as a federal civilian for 32 years; 10 years for the Navy and 22 years for the Air Force. I’ve been through BRAC, RIFs, a few government shutdowns, pay freezes, early-out offers and relocated coast-to-coast. After the of the last multi-year pay freeze and the degradation of federal civil service employees by our elected officials, I decided I had finally had enough. I had always done my job to the best of my ability, worked whatever hours were required in a multitude of conditions (I was in an Environmental office, so spill cleanup/oversight was a job requirement). Everyone I worked with worked just as hard. We weren’t the “lazy civilians wasting taxpayer dollars” as we were portrayed to the public. Yes, morale was pretty low sometimes but we still did our jobs...which, as someone else said, was service to the American people and our government. As soon as I qualified for retirement...I was gone, and that was 4 years ago. Sadly, a replacement for my position took 3 years to hire, leaving the other people in my office to share my job, in addition to their own, until then. No one in government should be surprised that morale, retention and hiring are difficult. Unless attitudes change...that will always be the case, unfortunately.

Fri, Mar 12, 2021 Puregoldj Bethesda

Ummm... I'm a government contractor. I feel fortunate to have a job that enables me to work at home. However, let me emphasize, I am WORKING from home, doing exactly what I was doing when in the office; contractors aren't being paid to hang around and do nothing. We need to do our jobs, and if we didn't it would (or should) be noticed by our customers. If you're a Federal employee and teleworking, you're getting paid for working at home too.

Fri, Mar 12, 2021

To the person with 40 years, thank you for your comments. I have 34 years of federal service; everything you said is true. Better to be thankful than complain. Things could definitely be worse. Where the private industry has shuttered its doors, government employees are still able to maintain a living. Yes; the salary rates need to be raised in the federal government, but working and earning a living is better than unemployment. The Administration has signed a bill to help, but folks on unemployment still need to look earnestly for a job. Sooner or later, the unemployment compensation will dry up.

Thu, Mar 11, 2021

Thanks to the democrats and republicans (presidents, congressional and senate representatives) all have contempt for civil servants. They destroyed civil service and demonized hard working folks. Now they want to revamp things. what bilge water is that?

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