Biden Faces Demoralized Federal Workforce The federal workforce has often been pilloried by President Trump, but still there are far more applicants than there are federal jobs.

Morale Down, Federal Workforce Gets Ready For A New Boss

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When President-elect Biden takes office, one big challenge will be the federal workforce. It comprises almost 2 million people, and morale is down in many agencies after four years of attacks on the civil service by President Trump. NPR's Brian Naylor has this look.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: He's called the federal workforce the deep state. His administration has moved hundreds of jobs out of Washington, D.C. There was a hiring freeze and job cuts in some agencies. The actions and rhetoric by President Trump have taken their toll on the federal workforce, says Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

MAX STIER: There's no question that the Trump administration has diminished the value of civil service or public service for many agencies. And you can see that just in the morale scores of those agencies themselves.

NAYLOR: Of the 17 largest federal agencies listed in the partnership's best-places-to-work survey, morale was down at 10 from the previous year. The federal workforce has other issues. Federal workers tend to be a lot older than workers in the private sector, says Donald Kettl, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

DONALD KETTL: Six-point-two percent of federal employees are under the age of 30. In the U.S. workforce as a whole, it's 24%. So there's a huge gap. And the federal government has been actually doing a really poor job of bringing new blood in.

NAYLOR: And getting hired by the government is a long and often arduous process. Kettl says it takes some 90 days for the government to hire someone. And the USAJobs website, which applicants must use, is difficult to negotiate. Kettl teaches a course in public management. I spoke with a few of his students who are interested in public service but not with the federal government. Emma Israel wants to work on immigration issues, but is turned off by the Department of Homeland Security.

EMMA ISRAEL: Which has been a department that - in my opinion, anyway - that the administration has really used for political purposes and has gotten sort of an even worse reputation than it had before the Trump presidency.

NAYLOR: Others see the federal government as too bureaucratic and not open to change. Pay is another issue, especially for low-level jobs. Chad Hooper is a former IRS manager who now heads the Professional Managers Association. He says he had trouble recruiting people to work at some of those jobs.

CHAD HOOPER: You have to have a bachelor's degree to work in the walk-in office (laughter). So - and fill out all of those forms and then find out right when you join that you have this 5% mandatory retirement contribution, so the take-home pay that you're expecting is actually quite a bit less.

NAYLOR: Convincing someone to work for the federal government can be a tough sell, says Traci DiMartini, who is the chief human capital officer at the General Services Administration, the GSA. But she says not everyone is deterred. Through the end of November this year, she says her agency's posted some 1,300 job listings.

TRACI DIMARTINI: For that, we received over 66,000 applications, which means we're only hiring 2% of the people that applied.

NAYLOR: Across the whole federal government, according to the Office of Personnel Management, there were more than 18 million applicants for some 331,000 federal job postings this year. DiMartini says working for the federal government is a noble calling.

DIMARTINI: We are really what make America tick. Seasonal firefighters at USDA, food and safety inspectors, park rangers, police officers - you know, it's a whole gamut of individuals all across the country.

NAYLOR: So far, figures show there's been no spike in new applicants because of the change in administrations. And DiMartini says despite the challenges in tough economic times, people want to work for the federal government, no matter who is in charge.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.


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