Disgruntled Federal Employees

A new survey has been released that indicates that more than one-third of federal employees who took part in a government-wide survey released today said they were considering leaving their jobs, with a little less than half of the 34.6 percent who are considering leaving said they were planning to retire within three years. According to the Federal Human Capital Survey, conducted by the federal Office of Personnel Management, government officials now appear to have identified retention of federal employees as a major concern. Or should we say another major concern, since the so-called “brain drain,” or the impending exodus of large groups of employees from federal employment has already been identified as a looming and very significant problem for federal agencies. (See the Washington Post’s series on the “Empty Pipeline.”)

The Washington Post reports that Bush administration officials call the results “troubling.” That’s right, they are. But what can you expect? You take a group of workers who are significantly underpaid compared to the private sector, make them wait months for the meager raises they do get, threaten to privatize entire departments, and deny civil service protections and union rights to newly created agencies playing a critical role in our nation’s anti-terrorist efforts. Is it any wonder that employees are looking to get out? Here’s a look at some of the reasons why:

Pay: After months of wrangling, it was finally announced in the last week that federal employees will finally receive raises this year. (See Washington Post article.) Federal employees will receive a 3.1 percent increase in their base pay and a 1 percent increase in their “locality pay” under an executive order issued by President Bush. In most years, decisions on annual raises are settled before New Year’s Day, but politics slowed this one down. The raises are retroactive to January 1, 2003, however.

Privatization: The Department of Health and Human Services is the latest federal department proceeding towards privatization of jobs that have previously been held by civil service employees. (See Washington Post article.) For a good summary of the employee’s perspective on agency privatization, see the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) fact sheet on privatization, which claims that privatization will “transform the civil service into a `spoils system,’ which would consist of a largely union-free workforce of poorly-compensated contractor employees with no protectionsagainst politically-inspired dismissals and discipline.”

Homeland Security: On March 1, 2003, more than 170,000 employees from 22 government agencies became part of the new Department of Homeland Security. (See Government Executive Magazine article.) While unionized employees from other agencies for now have been allowed to retain their unionized status (see Labor-Management Obligations in DHS memo dated March 12, 2003), new agency employees, such as airport screeners hired by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). Clashes have already begun: many union groups have opposed the limitations on union membership for TSA workers (see AFL-CIO Executive Council statement, and AFGE has initiated a special “Airport Screeners campaign” to push for unionization of the TSA workforce. There are already charges that TSA discriminated against minorities and older workers in hiring its airport screeners. (See Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.)

These are just a few of the reasons that a number of government employees are very dissatisfied with the conditions of their employment. But if the Bush administration is truly worried about retaining a quality federal workforce, they are reasons that should be examined very closely.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.