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foan Timoney, Vice President for Programs Partnership for Public Service (PPS) THE MISSION OF THE PARTNERSHIP FOR PUBLIC SERVICE: ENSURING A STRONG CIVIL SERVICE The Partnership for Public Service is a new nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting and retaining excellence in the fed- eral civil service. Through an aggressive campaign of agency reform, leg- islative advocacy, focused research, and educational efforts, the Partner- ship encourages talented people to choose federal service for some or all of their careers and works with the government to help retain high-achiev- ing federal employees. The mission of the Partnership is to help ensure that the federal gov- ernment has the workforce it needs to meet the economic, social, and se- curity demands of the 21st century. There are a number of areas of con- cern. High among them is the challenge of recruiting and retaining a highly skilled technical and scientific workforce. The Partnership looks forward to working with the members and sup- porters of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) to encourage young scientists and engineers to consider federal service. We appreciate that a critical first step is to encourage more young people to pursue careers in engineering and science so the country has the talent pool required to meet its public- and private-sector needs. One way the Partnership can help is by working with GUIRR and others to educate young students about the important and often exciting work that is car- ried out each day by scientists and engineers working for the federal gov- ernment. Exposing students to the work, and to the committed federal ~ low ~
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~ r~.w7 employees engaged in it, may have the dual benefit of drawing more stu- dents to the profession and encouraging some number of them to em- brace a public service that sorely needs their skills. THE NEED FOR ACTION The need for the federal government to recruit and retain talented workers is ever more urgent as many of its most experienced workers prepare for retirement. In the next five years, over 50 percent of the fed- eral workforce may qualify for retirement and 70 percent of its senior managers will reach retirement age. It is a graying workforce among federal scientists and engineers as well. According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, nearly 40 percent of the physical scientists and 30 percent of the biological scientists in cabinet-level agencies are over the age of 50. Among federal engineers, 32 percent of those working in the cabinet agencies are over 50. The urgency of the issue at just one agency was brought home re- cently by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) direc- tor Sean O'Keefe who said earlier this year in testimony before the Con- gress, "In an agency where the expertise is not as deep as we would like it to be, even a few retirements can be critical. Everywhere I go across the NASA Centers, I hear the same story: we're only one deep; we can't af- ford to lose that skill." KEY FINDINGS ON RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION BARRIERS As it seeks to replace its most experienced employees, the federal gov- ernment is entering a recruitment marketplace that even in today's economy is characterized by keen competition for top talent in most pro- fessions. That competition will only intensify as the U.S. labor force con- tinues to shrink. And there are additional factors that often add up to a competitive disadvantage for the federal government. TROUBLING ATTITUDES TOWARD FEDERAL EMPLOYMENT The government has the burden of promoting its opportunities to a public that considers the private and nonprofit sectors to be much more attractive employers. A poll conducted by the Partnership last year about attitudes toward federal employment found the following: · By 40 percent to 9 percent, college-educated Americans believe the private sector offers more interesting and challenging work.
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PAN-~CANIZAHONAL SUMMIT · By 62 percent to 5 percent, the private sector is seen as better re- warding outstanding performance; 60 percent of those polled believe the private sector does a better job of allowing employees to take initiative. · Among those who consider "contributing to society and making a difference," the nonprofit sector won out over government as the em- ployer of choice by a startling 52 percent to 10 percent. Added to these perception problems is the issue of compensation. While salary is not always the determining factor in career choice, for certain professions the disparity between public- and private-sector sala- ries can spell too much sacrifice to talented young job seekers. This is particularly true for younger Americans who graduate with significant student loan debt. A LACK OF INFORMATION ABOUT FEDERAL OPPORTUNITIES The perceptions about federal employment are set against a backdrop of a general lack of information about the civil service and the opportuni- ties that abound across government. Many college-educated Americans know very little about the civil service or the varied work of federal em- ployees. Only 29 percent of those the Partnership polled felt well informed about federal government opportunities; a mere 20 percent could recall seeing a federal recruiter on their campus. The good news is that these findings should improve over time as many federal agencies are working hard to reconnect with college cam- puses and becoming more sophisticated in their education and recruit- ment campaigns. The more information college-educated Americans re- ceive about the civil service, and the more effective the communications, the greater the chances that the unfounded perceptions about federal em- ployment can be changed. BROKEN HIRING PROCESS The sometimes impenetrable federal hiring process remains a real barrier to recruitment. In a study conducted by the Brookings Institution last year, federal employees themselves, by very large percentages, de- scribed the process as too slow, too confusing, and unfair. And these are people who are reasonably familiar with the system. For outsiders, the process can be incomprehensible. Talented people with multiple options are unlikely to make the effort or wait the six months that it can some- times take to hear back from an agency. The director of the Office of Per- sonnel Management has taken this issue head on and there are proposals
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pending before Congress that could help. Some agencies have also made great strides and can serve as a model for others. But there is still a great deal of work to be done across government to make the federal hiring process a 21st century system. UNDERUTILIZATION OF INTERN PROGRAMS: A MISSED RECRUITMENT OPPORTUNITY Internships have long been recognized as a particularly valuable cruitment tool. According to a 2001 Employer Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internships were rated as the most effective means of bringing in new talent, particularly techni- cal talent. Other studies have shown that recruits who were originally interns tend to stay with their employer longer than their counterparts hired off the street. And interns who have enjoyable and productive expe- riences are walking advertisements for their employers a boost the fed- eral government clearly needs on campuses. Unfortunately, as the Partnership found in its research on internship opportunities in the federal government, internships represent a missed recruitment opportunity for many agencies. Despite the anticipated need for new talent, there has been almost no growth in the government's ca- reer-oriented Student Career Experience Program in the last seven years. Further, the federal government falls significantly behind the private sec- tor in the percentage of interns it converts to employees. The federal gov- ernment converted only 12 percent of its career-oriented interns, while the private sector typically converts 36 percent of its program participants. We also found that, over the past five years, seven agencies account for approximately 70 percent of federal interns in the career-oriented pro- gram. Therefore, there is a great deal more that could be done across gov- ernment to expose younger Americans to the rewards of public service through internships. And much more could be done to better inform students about the opportunities that do exist. Currently, there is no central source of infor- mation on internship opportunities across government. For younger Americans who know very little about the civil service, it is a high hurdle to search agency by agency for opportunities. RECOMMENDATIONS 1. Organizations that share a concern about the availability of skilled scientists and engineers to meet public- and private-sector needs in the new century should work together to help educate the Congress about
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PAN-~CANIZAHONAL SUMMIT the issues and to support funding for scholarships and other incentives to encourage students to embrace those careers. 2. Federal agencies, schools, and other interested organizations should work together to better inform young people about opportunities that exist for scientists and engineers in the civil service. By more aggres- sively publicizing the exciting, often state-of-the-art, work being done in federal laboratories and research centers across the country, agencies can counter erroneous perceptions about the federal work environment. This education and outreach effort should start at least at the high school level. University students must also be given the tools they need to pursue fed- eral employment opportunities once they are made aware of them. The Partnership can be of assistance through its campus-based initiative A Call to Serve: Leaders in Education Allied for Public Service. This is a joint initiative of the Partnership and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Launched last April, the network has grown to over 380 schools and 58 federal agencies that have agreed to work together to educate students about the importance of a strong civil service and the opportunities to serve. 3. Federal agencies should also make student employment programs part of their strategic workforce planning and use them as a critical tool for building the talent pool for future hires. The agencies, the Office of Personnel Management, and other organizations providing student em- ployment and internship opportunities should work together to improve the visibility and quality of the information made available to students about those opportunities. 4. Federal offices around the country should begin to work more closely with their local high schools to afford young students the opportu- nity to experience firsthand the important and varied work of the civil service. This is particularly important in the hard-to-recruit professions such as science and engineering where there is a need to interest many more young people in these careers and in public service. 5. Agencies should make it a priority to ask for funding to implement the various recruitment and retention incentives that will help attract top talent to the federal service, and Congress should provide those funds. This includes funding scholarship for service programs, loan repayment assistance programs, recruitment and retention bonus Programs and con- tinuing education programs. ~ ~ , 6. Federal agencies must make much better use of existing tools and authorities to improve the federal hiring and selection process. And where legislative changes are required, Congress, the agencies, and other inter- ested organizations should work together to bring about needed reforms.
Representative terms from entire chapter: