31 Percent of Feds Will Be Eligible to Retire by 2017

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Report calls for broader workforce planning efforts to keep mission-critical areas fully staffed.

The federal workforce from 2004 to 2012 grew by more than 250,000 workers, in part due to the government’s increased mission focus on cybersecurity, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report, released Wednesday, outlined growth in mission critical job areas and permanent career positions, but cautioned that agencies will need to implement broader workforce planning efforts in order to keep mission-critical areas like cybersecurity fully staffed in the face of looming retirements in the coming years.

More specifically, GAO found that federal nonpostal civilian employment grew 14 percent from 2004 to 2012, from 1.88 million to 2.13 million. Three agencies – the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments – accounted for 94 percent of this increase, with job fields like acquisition, cybersecurity, veteran medical services and border security cited as the major drivers of personnel increases, GAO found.

But while retirement rates have remained relatively low over the eight-year period, increasing numbers of federal employees becoming eligible in the coming years could be cause for concern. As of September 2012, nearly 270,000 (14 percent) of feds were eligible to retire, and that number is expected to increase to 600,000 (31 percent) by 2017, GAO found.

The potential for brain drain in mission critical areas means agencies must broaden workforce planning efforts to identify, narrow and evaluate skills gaps. Since GAO’s last assessment in 2011, the Office of Personnel Management has made progress in these areas, in part through establishing a human capital working group to identify skills gaps, as well as the development of a governmentwide Human Resources IT strategy to provide greater visibility of current and emerging skills gaps.

“Although employment levels have grown, large numbers of retirement-eligible employees may be cause for concern among agencies, decision-makers, and other stakeholders, because they could produce mission critical skills gaps if turnover is not strategically managed and monitored,” the report stated. 

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