concern for at least a decade, as reflected in the department’s workforce planning guide (HHS Office of Human Resources and ASMB, 1999).1
In 2001, 1,067 individuals retired from HHS, 1.7 percent of its workforce; the average age at retirement was 60.3 years. These retirees were an experienced group, with 28 years’ service, on average; 22 were from the Senior Executive Service (SES); 370 were categorized as “professional.” Three years later, in 2004, a somewhat larger number—1,700—of employees retired, 2.9 percent of the department’s workforce. On average, these retirees were a little younger (59.9 years), but had served a little longer (29.5 years). Twenty-eight were from the SES, and a much larger number—470—were “professionals.”
Experienced senior managers and professionals are not easy for government agencies to replace. Retirees around age 60 are part of the generation born from 1946–1964—the baby boom—and the following generation provides a pool of potential workers that is not only somewhat smaller, but also less interested in public service careers (Light, 2007). This underscores the need for the secretary to establish “moon landing” type goals that inspire a new generation of Americans—one representing our nation’s diversity—to enter public service.
The situation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a case in point. CDC had about 9,000 employees in 2007. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office estimated that 27 percent of CDC’s workforce, which includes a great many highly skilled employees—statisticians, epidemiologists, and laboratory scientists—would be eligible to retire within five years, as would more than a third of its hard-to-replace medical officers. (GAO, 2008a)
Several nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations have emerged that attempt to encourage public-sector careers (see, for example, Partnership for Public Service, http://www.ourpublicservice.org/OPS/; the Demos Center for the Public Sector, http://www.demos.org, which encourages a “reenvisioning” of the public sector; and the Council for Excellence in Government, http://www.excelgov.org/). Academic institutions could also play a critical role in encouraging public service.