O'Keefe: Gen X rejects careers

Replacing the wave of retiring federal workers won't be easy without a shift in how the federal government sells itself, Sean O'Keefe, the new deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Tuesday.

O'Keefe, speaking at the National Academy of Public Administration's conference on workforce quality, said attracting young workers — including highly sought information technology workers — will be hampered by the federal government's focus on long-term career service.

That's because Generation X workers, in whatever field they pursue, don't want to stay at a job for "more than five years," O'Keefe said. Rather, they value the freedom to work at a variety of organizations, he said.

O'Keefe said he learned this as a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, his post before being tapped for OMB by President Bush. Only about two-thirds of his graduate students ended up going into public service, and most of those shied away from the federal government because of their perception that they were expected to remain their for their entire careers.

That notion is "out of step," he said, but the federal government does have something going for it: its size. If advertised as an opportunity to work for a vast number of agencies with wide-ranging missions, more young workers could be drawn into service, O'Keefe said.

Government must make it easier for workers to transfer from agency to agency, he said, and the tendency to pigeonhole workers in a career-lasting job series must be resisted.

O'Keefe also said that "psychic income" — the value government workers receive for serving the public — isn't "selling as much as it used to" with younger workers.

"It's essential we address this before we reach a crisis," O'Keefe said. "It's close."

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