More federal workers involuntarily leave jobs horizontally than vertically

posted at 3:35 pm on July 20, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

For a statistics nut like me, USA Today’s story this week on departure statistics from federal employment is simply irresistible.  Once ensconced in the bureaucracy, civil-service employees are more likely to leave their jobs through death than through layoffs or firings in at least a dozen government agencies.  Moreover, those who do get fired make substantially less, with 2 out of every 3 making less than $50,000 a year (via The New Editor):

The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30 — 11,668 employees in its 2.1 million workforce. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance, says John Palguta, former research chief at the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, which handles federal firing disputes.

The 1,800-employee Federal Communications Commission and the 1,200-employee Federal Trade Commission didn’t lay off or fire a single employee last year. The SBA had no layoffs, six firings and 17 deaths in its 4,000-employee workforce.

When job security is at a premium, the federal government remains the place to work for those who want to avoid losing a job. The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43% last year and nearly 100% for those on the job more than a few years.

As with all statistics, though, one has to determine exactly what this measures and what this means. In this case, the measures seem straightforward, but the meaning less so.  A low turnover in staff usually indicates successful management, both in hiring and in retention, and a well-motivated workforce.  In fact, that’s exactly what HUD claims:

HUD spokesman Jerry Brown says his department’s low dismissal rate — providing a 99.85% job security rate for employees — shows a skilled and committed workforce. “We’ve never focused on firing people, and we don’t intend to start now. We’re more focused on hiring the right people,” he says.

Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a great thing, according to a management expert consulted by USA Today:

San Francisco State University management professorJohn Sullivan, an expert on employee turnover, says the low departure rates show a failure to release poor performers and those with obsolete skills. “Rather than indicating something positive, rates below 1% in the firing and layoff components would indicate a serious management problem,” he says.

In this environment, it indicates something else, too.  While the private sector has lost millions of jobs, the federal government hasn’t shed hardly any at all, outside of the temporary Census workers hired last year. When revenues plunge in the private sector, companies trim workforces and become more efficient.  One can argue that some of the public sector agencies in the federal government have to bolster themselves in that kind of environment in order to provide safety-net help for more Americans, and that does make a certain amount of sense.

However, take another look at the USA Today article.  The FCC, SBA, and the FTC have a combined workforce of 7,000 people — and they didn’t lay off one single worker.  What “safety net” programs does the FCC and the FTC provide?  In that context, the Small Business Administration would only need to increase if the number of small businesses were increasing, which they most assuredly have not over the last three years.  With revenues off by around 20% or more, those agencies should have gotten a substantial haircut.

In this case, the statistics seem to bear out their initial impression — that the public sector won’t fire or lay off employees unless mandated to do so.  Isn’t it time for Congress to do just that?

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Shall I be unkind and say, “At least they’re leaving”?

DrMagnolias on July 20, 2011 at 3:37 PM

So how many more are actually DEAD at their desks and no one has noticed?

GarandFan on July 20, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Disgusting. I am getting so sick and tired of paying for these people.

jawkneemusic on July 20, 2011 at 3:43 PM

don’t let the coffin door hit you on the way out…

PatriotRider on July 20, 2011 at 3:45 PM

More importantly, how long do the deceased stay on the payroll ex post facto?

Vashta.Nerada on July 20, 2011 at 3:46 PM

“We’ve never focused on firing people, and we don’t intend to start now. We’re more focused on hiring the right people,” he says.

1. You’re about to start focusing on firing people, like it or not.

2. Sadly, when you say you are more focused on hiring the right people, you don’t mean performance factors.

Vashta.Nerada on July 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

It must be a real dilemma for the individuals holding management positions within the federal government — when only the dead ones leave.

My collie says:

Yeah. For example, how do they know which employees need to be sent to the morgue?

CyberCipher on July 20, 2011 at 3:49 PM

Can we start with firing the President?

search4truth on July 20, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Where’s my red stapler?

JFS61 on July 20, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I’m a data point — of sorts. For seventeen years I was a s/w engineer at the Defense Mapping Agency (now the NGA), until they outsourced all the s/w jobs. I was offered a position as a program manager, but wanted to stay technical and left government — to go to work for Oracle as a contractor on government programs (not with them any more).

IOW, I went out one door and came in another (though at a different agency), and make about twice what I did as a Fed.

I guess the difference is that (1) I can be gotten rid of very easily at the end of a contract and (2) I cost nothing in benefits, long or short term, to the government.

I suppose over the long run it does save the government money, but it sure doesn’t seem like it at first glance.

JamesS on July 20, 2011 at 3:53 PM

CLASS WARFARE – Nice job Ed. HuffPo would be proud!

Of course – some of these guys are CIA types and are fighting in Afghanistan, where a few of them have died. Some of them work for agencies, like I do, who do dangerous jobs all over the world for National Security for $60,000 or less (that’s me). Some of these people have travelling jobs and spend up to 200 days per year away from their families. You got Federal Fire Departments out there who service military bases all over the US. You got Federal prison security that have to deal with inmates.

But of course – why mention those people … the people with low paying government jobs who perform undesirable services for the rest of us? Hell – no .. don’t mention them at all – instead, let’s paint all Federal workers as desk jockey’s who sleep on the job and wake up occasionally to hand out a license plate or two.

Seriously …

Don’t know if you know it or not – but you have some hard working folks out here in the Federal service who do tough jobs and shun the unions. I got thrown OUT of the last “union recruitment” seminar for misbehaving during the presentations (the lecturer didn’t like the questions I asked him). So there are a lot of comrades in arms for conservatives here in the Federal government but …

Yeah – let’s turn this into an “us versus them” thing and I’m sure we drive ALL FEDERAL WORKERS into the Union!

Good go!

HondaV65 on July 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

That’s a brilliant headline. I’ll admit, it gave me the girly giggles.

Meric1837 on July 20, 2011 at 3:57 PM

The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year

Regardless of how good your hiring practices may be, no large company could get away with firing that many employees not be inundated with incompetence….

And we al know that the interview at say the post office goes pretty much like this:

Can you drive? Yes
Do you have the ability to read at at least a 3rd grade level? Yes
Can you explain your felony conviction?
Yes, what happened was I…
No, no, we don’t want to hear it, a simple yes or no will suffice.

Your hired!

jeffn21 on July 20, 2011 at 4:04 PM

HondaV65 on July 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Almost on par with Dick Durbin potraying all illegal immigrants by showcasing a handful of positive stories.

There’s no doubt that there are a great number of federal employees who do great work in tough situations.

There’s also no doubt that they are not statistically representative of the federal workforce at large where – again – there’s virtually no danger of being fired, even in departments where the related subject has declined by 20%.

I think we can agree that SBA employees are not in life-threatening conditions, and would absolutely be struggling with job security if in the private sector and their own ‘sector’ had diminished by 20%.

Midas on July 20, 2011 at 4:05 PM

More importantly, how long do the deceased stay on the payroll ex post facto?

Vashta.Nerada on July 20, 2011 at 3:46 PM

As long as they can vote for Democrats they should still get paid, right? I mean as long as they’re getting paid, the union gets its’ dues and the Democrats get their campaign contributions so the Democratic officials can continue the funding which pays the bureaucrats. It’s the circle of life.

trubble on July 20, 2011 at 4:05 PM

HondaV65 on July 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Finally. A kindred spirit.

manwithblackhat on July 20, 2011 at 4:06 PM

Just as long as they vote demorat after dying, it’s all good.

Bishop on July 20, 2011 at 4:09 PM

HondaV65 on July 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Sorry your ox is being gored, but Ed has quite a legitimate point. (And this doesn’t even come close to actual class warfare.)

TSUGambler on July 20, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Where’s my red stapler?

JFS61 on July 20, 2011 at 3:52 PM

++ for the Office Space reference

ted c on July 20, 2011 at 4:13 PM

In private business, it pays to lay off 5-10% of the lowest performance layer of workers every year as a matter of course.

HR management experts will also look at voluntary turnover rates in various departments and job categories and use those to calculate the sufficiency of compensation packages. If they look at some of these government departments they would conclude in an instant that they are overpaid.

slickwillie2001 on July 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM

The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30 — 11,668 employees in its 2.1 million workforce. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance

Wow. Look how few federal workers got fired. They really are the best and the brightest.

elfman on July 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Re: HondaV65

I happen to know someone who works for the Department of Commerce. He, himself, is a worker bee…..and constantly complaining about just how many people in that building do next to NOTHING, All. day. long.
He says that for every 5 people actually Working…there are, at the very least, 15 wasting space, time and money. Many spend hours in the cafeteria, just “eating”……the worst part is that many of these people are bringing in over 50,000 a year—people that have been there for 15 years, much more.
It’s freakin’ sad. This is why I always say I Never want to work in a place like that, I’d go nuts.
But, as is…being unemployed…sign me up. I need a job.

bridgetown on July 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM

There are a ton of great federal workers in many agencies that actually take pride in their jobs and consider themselves public servants. I would challenge any of you to have taken my job of 37 years federal service just to see what work is actually done.

As far as knowing people who don’t work, sure, there are some, but that happens everywhere.

I worked well over 40 hours some weeks, didn’t get any overtime money, there was none in the budget. I traveled almost every week for work in different locations, leaving early Monday AM and getting home late Friday night, that is if all the airline flights were on time. I paid for social security and medicare, it was not free as some idiots believe. In my particular job I could have made more earlier in my career instead of staying. As a supervisor of over 15 employees it was MY job to make sure everyone was busy and doing their job. If you know if a federal work who doesn’t do anything all day it is because of supervision that was not present.

The real problem in being a fed employee was the constant hiring of CONTRACT workers from various corporations to work for the agency for one year, all the time being trained by the government worker … who always made LESS money than the contract worker. In most cases we paid 3X the cost of hiring exrtra employees … because there was no budrget for salaries to add extra people, yet there was plenty of money to give to coporations to place their temp workers in the agency.

So that is the real story from someone who worked 37 years and is now retired, oh and by the way, retirement is not 100% of even 50% of my working salary. Another idiotic assumption that all government works are living high on the hog on big fat retirement checks.

As a dedicated military vet and federal worker I would just ask you to thank me for my service instead of belittling federal workers of which most of you have no clue as to what actually happens.

Monkei on July 20, 2011 at 4:44 PM

Yeah – let’s turn this into an “us versus them” thing and I’m sure we drive ALL FEDERAL WORKERS into the Union!

Good go!

HondaV65 on July 20, 2011 at 3:55 PM

We aren’t opposed to the idea of federal workers, we just need about 35% less of you.

Vashta.Nerada on July 20, 2011 at 4:46 PM

bridgetown on July 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Sounds like a description of a typical UAW worksite. Wait, do the employees smoke dope at lunchtime?

slickwillie2001 on July 20, 2011 at 4:48 PM

I agree that tenure in federal jobs is too strong. I used to say that every SESer should have the authority to fire one worker a year for non-performance, without it being challenged. In my experience, the worst the federal worker, the better the knowledge of their rights to not be help accountable.

FWIW, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is quite different. It’s a true performance based agency. 5,000 examiners yield 25% of all federal firings.

What you do as an USPTO examiner is looked at from a production standpoint. Quality enters into it as well. Every two weeks it’s “What have you done for me this biweek” spelled out in hard numbers. The probationary 1st year is geared to not hire, as there are benefits to the hiring supervisor for getting a years worth of work from a non-permanently hired worker.

Every promotion your learning curve is baked into your higher salary. An examiner has to produce more work for the same amount of time every promotion, or be fired. It’s the only place I ever saw in the Federal government where leave was taken while at work to stay employed. Leave is burned to lower your production hours per output.

Lastly, although the sweatshop atmosphere is not a lot of fun over time, the fees earned by employee’s work are raided by Congress to fund loser Agencies like Dept. of Ed. This separate source of funding means that in the event of a government shutdown, the Patent Office keeps on working.

As Ed Morrissey mentioned in one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Patent Office is authorized by Article 1, section 8 of the constitution.

NaCly dog on July 20, 2011 at 4:57 PM

So that is the real story from someone who worked 37 years and is now retired, oh and by the way, retirement is not 100% of even 50% of my working salary. Another idiotic assumption that all government works are living high on the hog on big fat retirement checks.

Monkei on July 20, 2011 at 4:44 PM

Sorry, but parts of your story do not ring true. If you were a Federal employee for 37 years, you would have been in CSRS like I was (a Federal employee for 31 years). As such, you would not have been paying into Social Security. A 37-year retiree would be recieving 70.25% of the average of his three highest years salary if single or if he waived survivor benifits. Even with survivor benefits you’d be getting much more than 50%

During my years of Federal service, I have been through periods of being worked to a frazzle and periods where I was mostly idle. There were times when I was able to actually accomplish something for the fleet (I worked for the Navy) and times when most of my effort was wasted on bureaucratic nonsense.

The last 10 years I saw an explosive growth of “process” that all but strangled productive endeavor while requiring many more people on the job. Scrap all the procedural folderol and we could get more done with half the workforce.

Steve Keeley on July 20, 2011 at 5:15 PM

Ed, as I understand it, the main argument against tax increases is that they take money out of the economy and, especially at an economically fragile time, will damage the economy further (less business investment, fewer workers hired by businesses, less spending on consumer goods and services, etc.) I agree with that reasoning. But, by the same token, if the federal government were to lay off a bunch of people, that would also take a bunch of money (those people’s paychecks) out of the economy, and would likely lead to many of them collecting unemployment and getting their houes foreclosed on and all kinds of other economuc unpleantness. Right? Am I missing something?

acasilaco on July 20, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Too bad these leeches can’t all die at 25!

MaiDee on July 20, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Sorry, but parts of your story do not ring true. If you were a Federal employee for 37 years, you would have been in CSRS like I was (a Federal employee for 31 years). As such, you would not have been paying into Social Security. A 37-year retiree would be recieving 70.25% of the average of his three highest years salary if single or if he waived survivor benifits. Even with survivor benefits you’d be getting much more than 50%

No, I was FERS. I joined the VA from the Coast Guard in 1986, therefore I had no option on which plan I could choose. Maybe I should have pointed that out, so therefore they collected SSN from me.

Monkei on July 20, 2011 at 6:21 PM

Too bad these leeches can’t all die at 25!

MaiDee on July 20, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Idiot post … for starters all Senators would be elected and then die immediately or within 1 year, therefore all we would be doing is electing senators each and every year at various times of the year.

just goes to show you how much of an idiotic post it was and how terribly offensive it is to me and other federal workers.

Monkei on July 20, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Monkei if you are a federal worker I’m glad you are offended. I’m not talking congress (elected) or the military just all the other overpaid, underworked government workers. Come to think of it. better if they all die at 24. You’re the number 1 reason we’re in debt-to pay for your outrageous salaries. So go to Hell and I mean it!!!!

MaiDee on July 20, 2011 at 6:50 PM

Monkei if you are a federal worker I’m glad you are offended. I’m not talking congress (elected) or the military just all the other overpaid, underworked government workers. Come to think of it. better if they all die at 24. You’re the number 1 reason we’re in debt-to pay for your outrageous salaries. So go to Hell and I mean it!!!!

MaiDee on July 20, 2011 at 6:50 PM

You are a real tool … a broad brush stroker. I have no idea how much money you think government workers make … government workers are not why we are in debt … only an idiot, much like you, would reduce it to that level.

You are woefully misinformed … pitty, I guess it is the sign of the times. Some people, like you, simply don’t like a real discussion, just go through life blaming everyone, but themselves.

You probably voted for the last administration who fought two wars off the budget, yet you blame the federal workers. Classic.

Monkei on July 20, 2011 at 7:31 PM

So, who has balls to fire CBP inspectors and Border Patrol officers? Or Asylum Officers at the USCIS who are responsible for adjudicating cases of Copts who flee Egypt because of persecution?

Just sayin’…

NorthernCross on July 21, 2011 at 10:39 AM