Amtower: Future shock for fed workforce

There has been much discussion during the past few years about the aging Senior Executive Service population and when the tipping point of massive migration will happen. Many people smarter than me have been addressing this issue because it is an important one.

Here’s my prediction: By March 31, 2009, more than half of the current career SES population will vacate their government jobs.

The average career person in the Senior Executive Service is now age 60 or older and has more than 30 years of service, making these persons eligible for retirement. These people have put in their time and have done great service for their country when they were not impeded by Congress, earmarks, inept appointees and other unnatural disasters.

Why March 31? By then, the first wave of new presidential appointees will be moving in and flexing their authority. All the SES population has been through this process several times, and it is never painless. Why in the world would they want to go through this process again, when some new appointee is going to come in and start to tweak things to reflect the current political climate?

Trying to educate a political appointee on the nuances of an agency’s mission and the best ways to fulfill it can’t be fun under the best of circumstances. I would rather try to teach my pet rock a new parlor trick.

Each time I write or speak about this, I get calls and e-mail messages (from home e-mail accounts) from many senior feds telling me about various frustrations. These calls come from all over the country. They come from several layers of management, from office managers to division heads and associate assistant secretaries. The level of pain is palpable.

So what does this all mean? Agencies have made little effort to fill the ranks immediately under the SESers, and consequently there is a severe shortage of top-level career employees. That translates to inertia, which in turn means there will be agency missions unfulfilled throughout government.

So my equation looks something like this:
New political appointees plus new priorities plus aging SES community equals 50 percent fewer SESers by the end of March 2009.

And that leads to:
Agencies minus SESers equals management voids and spending delays. That is, we’ll see a strange sort of work slowdown.

This will lead to a 2009 end-of-fiscal year spending spree of mythic proportion. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Not that I have an opinion.

Amtower (amtower@erols.com) is partner at Amtower and Co.

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