Fed flight, contractor delight?

Study shows half of federal workers considering leaving government

Frustrated by pay freezes, furloughs and the current political environment, 50 percent of federal employees are thinking of jumping ship and working outside of government.

Mission effectiveness is already suffering as a result.

According to a poll of 370 federal workers conducted by Market Connections and FierceGovIT, many government employees cited recent policies as a reason to defect from government work, and 39 percent of respondents said staffing issues have gotten so bad that mission-critical work is going undone.

“This level of frustration is fueled by what policies and budget cuts we’ve seen recently, particularly with the government shutdown,” Lisa Dezzutti, Market Connections president, told Washington Technology. “(Government workers) are feeling pressured to do more with less.”

But there may be a silver lining in the poll’s findings for government contractors.

“The flipside for industry is that this may indeed be an opportunity,” Dezzutti said.

Contractors can step in and step up to plug the holes left by under-staffed, under-supported feds, Dezzutti said, and if federal employees begin leaving the government in droves, contractors can snatch up top talent.

“Of course, contractors are tightening their own belts,” she said, so departing federal workers won’t find the wide-open job market of yesteryear.

One of the most worrying findings: the government workers who seem to care the most are the most likely to leave.

Only 30 percent of respondents who were not considering a job change feared that staffing issues were impacting mission-critical work, but 48 percent of those looking to leave said mission-critical work was being neglected.

Potential defectors were also more likely to say that retention of the federal workforce is a greater problem than finding qualified people.

Three-quarters of all respondents said “brain drain” – experienced employees retiring or leaving government work – will erode mission effectiveness, and a strong majority (61 percent) thinks there isn’t enough young talent in government to offset these losses.

The top three reasons respondents offered for leaving government were:

  1. The federal employee pay freeze (44 percent)
  2. A frustrating political environment (41 percent)
  3. Better salary opportunities in the private sector (34 percent)

Civilian agency employees were more likely to cite the political environment as a source of frustration, while those working in defense agencies were most irked by furloughs and last year’s government shutdown.

“Workers are really being impacted by the gridlock, the inability of our government to get anything done,” Dezzutti said.

All is not doom and gloom, of course, as the poll’s respondents may simply be coming off the particularly rough year of the government shutdown.

“’Considering leaving’ and ‘actually leaving’ are two different things,” Dezzutti said, saying that she suspected that a similar study conducted a year from now might reveal lower levels of dissatisfaction – so long as government leaders get their act together.

Dezzutti said the federal government needs to  avoid the partisan gridlock that led to last year’s shutdown if worker morale is to improve.

Over the past year, government agencies have been skimping on pay and staffing, the poll’s respondents said.

63 percent of respondents said their agency had frozen wages, 59 percent said departing workers were not being replaced and 49 percent said they lacked the resources to do their jobs properly.

Only 26 percent of respondents said their agencies were hiring to replace retiring workers.

“We tend to forget about the impact (of restrictive policies and government gridlock) on federal employees,” Dezzutti noted. “Travel and training budgets are being slashed, people are leaving and not being replaced.”

It’s tough on federal workers, Dezzutti said, who feel hard-pressed to keep the government functioning and retain the public’s trust.

What will happen if morale and staffing issues don’t improve?

“Things (in the government) are going to start to fail,” Dezzutti said.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.

Reader Comments

Thu, Feb 27, 2014

Government employees had grown fat and indolent on bloated salaries. The Federal government's pay scales were higher on average than those in the private sector. So the third reason for leaving government service sounds dubious. As far as more opportunities go, for contractors, it's an agonizing process that our Resumes are put through by brain dead reviewers whose method for estimating the viability of a prospective Resume is to match up buzz words in the job description to the content of a Resume. So a contractor's chance to get a crack at government contracts is in the hands of the dumb and clueless. It's "mission-critical" that they be forced out the door first.

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