Why can’t the government hire young people?

Commentary by Jeff Neal
Founder of ChiefHRO.com
& Senior Vice President, ICF International

This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Neal

Last week, I wrote about the rapid decline in the number of federal employees under age 30. The number of under-30 employees dropped from 233,759 to 176,533. The drop has been attributed to aging, a massive wave of resignations among younger employees and hiring issues. The Office of Personnel Management’s Fedscope database shows that, although resignations are up a bit (about 2,000 a year), the biggest problem is hiring.

One of the most successful hiring programs for recent college graduates was the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP). It was a critical source for DHS and Customs and Border Protection when they needed to ramp up the number of Border Patrol Agents. CBP hired thousands of new Border Patrol Agents, including a high percentage of veterans.

While FCIP was a successful program from the hiring perspective, it had many critics, including most unions and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). MSPB ruled that FCIP violated Veteran Preference rights because it lacked adequate “public notice” to allow veterans to apply for jobs filled via FCIP.

OPM replaced the FCIP with the Pathways programs. Pathways includes an internship program for current students, a program for hiring recent (within two years) graduates and the Presidential Management Fellows Program. The Partnership for Public Service reports that Chief Human Capital Officers have expressed dissatisfaction with Pathways.

FCIP used an Excepted Service appointing authority called Schedule B. The Pathways recent graduate program uses Schedule D. I decided to take a look at hiring for permanent positions using Excepted Service Schedules B and D to see how Pathways is doing relative to the FCIP. Fedscope does not provide a breakdown of specific Schedule B appointment types, but the majority of them traditionally were for FCIP.

What I found was not encouraging. The FCIP was terminated in February 2011. Hiring of under-30 applicants dropped by 58 percent between 2010 and 2011. When Pathways was introduced in 2012, total hiring continued to drop. We cannot show direct causation between problems with Pathways and decreased hiring, but the curve definitely moved in the wrong direction in 2011 and fell off a cliff in succeeding years. Last year, the government hired less than one-tenth the number of employees it hired in these programs just five years ago.

The drop in under-30 hiring presents many long-term problems for the government. If it is not corrected, it will send the message that the federal government is not a welcoming environment for young people, create a “missing generation” in the workforce and exacerbate inter-generational issues. It may also reduce opportunities for 18- to 24-year-old veterans, who have an unemployment rate greater than 20 percent. None of those is a good outcome.

The government cannot return to FCIP because of its legal deficiencies, and it cannot rely on Pathways as it is now being implemented. OPM and the CHCO Council should commission an independent review of this issue by a third party (such as the National Academy of Public Administration) to identify the causes of the lack of hiring under-30 applicants and to recommend public policy changes that can ensure the government meets its intake needs in a way that does not disadvantage young people and create other long-term issues.


What happened to all of the young federal employees?

You’re fired! And other federal management fantasies

Why is change so hard to accomplish in government?

Copyright 2014 by Jeff Neal. All rights reserved.

Jeff Neal is founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com, and a senior vice president for ICF International, where he leads the Organizational Research, Learning and Performance practice. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.