The federal government has a significant role to play in the domestic production and distribution of energy and raw materials. As stated in the Mining section of Chapter 2, the government role includes such areas as
- Permitting and regulating,
- Health and safety,
- Federal and state land administration, and
- Research and data compilation.
Federal employees are involved in all aspects of the energy and extractive industries, from initial access (through the permitting process), through production and the regulation of those activities, to closure and restoration during the reclamation process. If the government cannot find qualified workers, energy and extractive industries will be dramatically affected. For example, permits for exploration will not be processed, work sites will not be inspected, information accessible only to a comprehensive federal mandate will not be gathered or shared, and research into safer and healthier production will not be funded. Worker health and safety and the nation’s economic health will suffer. Federal agencies require competent and motivated employees in order to carry out their congressionally mandated responsibilities, and thus are dealing with workforce
issues that are very similar to those faced by the industry sectors outlined in previous chapters.
This chapter focuses on the workforce issues faced by federal agencies that are involved with the energy and extractive industries and possible solutions to these important issues. The information in this chapter was obtained through discussions with representatives from a wide range of federal agencies involved with the energy and extractive sectors. Specifically, members of the study committee and staff met with federal employees on two occasions and had a telephone conversation with others on a third occasion to discuss their workforce issues.
On December 13, 2011, employees from a range of federal offices participated in a federal agency discussion meeting at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, DC. The federal employees attending this session were: Mary Cummings (National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA]); Jeff Duncan (Mine Safety and Health Administration [MSHA]); Thomas Galassi (Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]); John Howard (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health); Robert LaBelle (representing the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement [BSEE] and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [BOEM]); Brenda Pierce (U.S. Geological Survey [USGS]); Steven Wells and Tim Spisak (Bureau of Land Management [BLM]); and Marilyn Suiter (National Science Foundation [NSF]).
On January 19, 2012, three study committee members (Elaine Cullen, Reginal Spiller, and Sterling Rideout) and staff met with employees of the Department of Energy (DOE) at DOE Headquarters in Washington, DC for a discussion of their workforce issues. The DOE employees participating in the meeting were: Guido DeHoratiis, Natenna Dobson, Shannon Gipson, Sheila Howell, Sharon Weaver, and Dawn Tolley (Office of Fossil Energy [DOE-FE]); Penny Boyce (Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Capital and Corporate Services); Serena McIlwain (Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer); Sheila Howell (and Kathy Fear (Human Resources Division of the Office of Institutional Operations at the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory).
On January 9, 2012, two study committee members (Elaine Cullen and Reginal Spiller) and staff had a telephone discussion with employees of the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE) about their workforce issues. The DOE employees participating in this discussion were: Michelle Fox, Linda Silverman, Christina Nichols, Jonathan Bartlett, and Joanna Maher.
Appendix B contains a detailed statistical and demographic view of the primary federal agencies responsible for management and oversight of energy and mining, based on data drawn primarily from FedScope1 (an online tool from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that provides information on the federal civilian workforce), with additional information drawn from the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website. The data and discussion in Appendix B corroborate and further elaborate on trends and issues discussed in this chapter.
Overview of the Workforce and Its Issues
Federal agencies provide a range of services related to the energy and extractive industries. These include such things as
- Research (e.g., NIOSH, USGS, DOE-FE, DOE-EERE);
- Data gathering and management (e.g., USGS, MSHA, U.S. Energy Information Administration [EIA], and Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS]);
- Energy security (e.g., NNSA);
- Permitting (e.g., BLM, U.S. Forest Service, and BOEM);
- Environmental oversight (e.g., Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement [OSMRE], BLM, and the Environmental Protection Agency);
- Health and safety regulation (e.g., MSHA, OSHA, and BSEE); and
- Technical support (e.g., MSHA, OSHA, and BSEE).
The formal education, training, and experience required for government employees vary widely and are dependent upon the duties of the individual agencies and their specific missions. Research agencies, for example, require their technical staff to hold 4-year degrees at a minimum, and terminal degrees are required for lead researchers in most cases. Regulatory agencies, by comparison, rely more strongly on industry experience and do not always require employees to hold college degrees. There are many more agencies and programs within the federal system than these, and regardless of educational requirements, all of them rely on strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills among their workers in order to fulfill their charge. Federal agencies, however, are in direct competition with industry in trying to attract workers with these skills and often deal with regulatory restrictions that make salaries for federal service less than competitive. The number of professional scientists and engineers is shrinking, while demand for their expertise is growing. The projections for petroleum engineers, shown in Figure 2.5 in Chapter 2, are an example. Salaries for geosciences are further evidence of this shortage, with increases in pay in industry that averaged 7.9 percent in 2011 (see the Oil and Gas section of Chapter 2). Salaries for professionals in energy and extractive fields are high and increase with experience, as is shown in Table 5.1. With salary caps in place, and frequent freezes in promotions, the federal government cannot compete with industry for the scientists and professionals it needs.
Agencies from all departments are facing high rates of retirement. Many saw rapid growth in the 1970s, when passage of legislation such as the Occupational
TABLE 5.1 2010 Salary Survey for Petroleum Geologists.
|Years of Experience||High (USD)||Average (USD)||Low (USD)|
SOURCE: Nation (2011). Used with permission from AAPG Explorer.
Safety and Health Act (1970) created both NIOSH to do occupational research and OSHA to regulate and inspect workplaces. The federal mining sector saw similar expansion with the passage of the 1969 and 1975 Mine Safety and Health legislation that created MSHA as an agency separate from its parent, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, and dramatically increased the size and funding for the Bureau of Mines to do health and safety research. Agencies that shared information for this study report that a significant percentage of their employees are now eligible for retirement, having served for more than 35 years in many cases. The following tables and charts show examples of workforce data for different government agencies.
Figure 5.1 shows the age breakdown for employees in the ocean science, technology, and operations workforce, which includes five agencies (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service [NOAA/NOS], NOAA/National Data Buoy Center, U.S. Navy/Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Goddard Space Flight Center, and BOEM/BSEE.)
The MSHA, which inspects and regulates the nation’s mines, is facing a similar situation, despite having recently hired a significant number of new inspectors. Their projections show that, for the coal sector, 47 percent of the workforce will be eligible to retire within 5 years. The metal/nonmetal workforce for MSHA is roughly half the size of the coal group, and is expecting to lose 40 percent in the same period. Figures 5.2 and 5.3 show the 2006 to 2011 characteristics of the MSHA coal and metal/nonmetal workforces, respectively.
The NNSA, charged with the security of the U.S. nuclear weapons and components, is facing a situation in which a majority of mission-critical employees are currently eligible or will be eligible for retirement in the next 4 years. Figure 5.4 shows the demographics of the NNSA workforce.
NSSA reports that:
FIGURE 5.1 Ocean science, technology, and operations workforce by age. SOURCE: Sullivan et al. (2009, Slide 17). Used with permission from Tom Murphree.
- 43 percent of engineers are eligible for retirement in the next 6 years,
- 52 percent of supervisors are eligible for retirement in the next 6 years, and
- Nearly half of senior managers are eligible to retire now.
These data show that critical positions may turn over very soon and there will be little or no time to train replacements.
Other agencies that provided information to the committee indicated similar circumstances. The OSMRE reported that 40-50 percent of current employees are eligible for retirement. The DOE-FE indicated that close to 45 percent of its technical staff is eligible for retirement in the next 5 years.
Managers for agencies that deal with energy and extractive industries share common concerns about their future workforce. Because of the wide range in missions among these agencies, and variations in how managers are allowed by Congress to operate, managers are addressing these concerns in different ways including:
- Capturing the wisdom and knowledge of key people before they leave is an issue for nearly every agency. OSHA is using a program called In-Teach that allows its retirees to develop training on information they would like to share with their colleagues. Many federal managers are frustrated with their inability to bring new employees into the system in a way that allows the employees the opportunity to overlap with existing experts and learn from them.
- Federal managers are having a hard time filling technical and mid-level management positions. The historical drivers for bringing people to the federal workforce—high salaries good benefits and job security—have
FIGURE 5.2. MSHA coal program workforce characteristics for fiscal years 2006-2011. SOURCE: Duncan (2011).
FIGURE 5.3 MSHA metal/nonmetal workforce characteristics for fiscal years 2006-2011. SOURCE: Duncan (2011).
FIGURE 5.4 Age demographics of the NNSA. SOURCE: Cummings (2011).
been eroded by hiring freezes and caps on salary and benefits. Competition for people with strong STEM skills and experience is very high, and the government cannot match what industry is offering in terms of salary and benefits.
- Pay levels for nonscientific federal positions are comparatively low, which is causing turnover among lower-graded employees. Agencies such as OSHA and MSHA that employ their inspectors at GS-7/9/11 levels cannot pay relocation costs or match the salary levels that their people could earn if they went to work for industry. Many of the field offices for agencies such as BLM or MSHA are in geographic areas where there are limited numbers of potential employees, and those areas are not perceived as attractive to people from other parts of the country. Experience has shown that people tend to be “place-based,” in that they prefer to stay in areas that they know and understand. Incentives to relocate need to overcome this barrier, but federal jobs that do not offer high pay, permanent status, relocation bonuses, or moving allowances are simply not competitive.
- Federal managers find it increasingly difficult to post vacancies and fill these positions with qualified candidates. They view the internal human resources systems as cumbersome and not tolerant of innovation. Several agencies, however, are making use of alternate hiring authorities, such as Presidential Fellowships (OSHA) or hiring reemployed annuitants (USGS). Few agencies are able to make use of a strategy more common to industry and academia—hiring skilled foreign candidates. Restrictions on citizenship status, particularly in regulatory or security positions, make it impossible for most agencies to consider employing
noncitizens. NIOSH, an agency under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is an exception and has successfully employed senior research people from other countries, particularly in the health research field. NIOSH also has been successful in reemploying retirees as consultants to work on specific tasks or projects.
- Some agencies are able to use unpaid workers to fulfill their nonregulatory and nonoversight mission-critical duties. Vista Volunteers are used by OSMRE, for example, and USGS uses an Emeritus program to allow retirees access to an office and support staff in order to continue research or to publish their work.
- Many agencies are facing significant changes in the nature of the work they do, as work becomes more technical and more crosscutting. Finding and hiring people with a breadth of specialties, such as economic geologists (USGS) or GIS-competent marine resource managers (BOEM) is difficult, particularly when companies are also looking for these skills and are willing to pay a premium for them. Some agencies, such as the DOE-EERE, are successfully using advanced technology to train new and existing employees. This mitigates, to some degree, the problems faced by agencies requiring training for their employees that takes the employees away from their families to a remote location for long periods of time, such as the 21 to 23 weeks of training at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia, that MSHA requires of new inspectors. (Although this training is generally spread over an 18-month period, it is not considered a perquisite by new candidates.) Employee development opportunities are available in most agencies, because managers often find it easier to crosstrain existing workers than to find new ones with the requisite skills. Some agencies, such as NIOSH, even offer “long-term training” that pays for terminal degrees in exchange for a guarantee that the employee will stay with the agency for a specified period of time.
- Nontraditional students are a recognized source for possible federal candidates. The OSMRE, for example, maintains partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities in order to communicate career opportunities to students that may not know about federal jobs. The DOE manages the Mickey Leland Energy Program internship2 (a 10-week summer internship program) for women and minority students enrolled in a STEM major. The NSF is attempting to increase diversity in STEM programs (those considered most crucial to federal employers), by encouraging minority students and girls to participate in grade-school science programs. Recognizing the difficulty of relocating people to places that are unfamiliar, NSF recommends localizing training if
possible, and relocating cohorts rather than individuals to diminish the anxiety these employees may feel about being outside of their familiar cultures.
- The DOE is also sponsoring the DOE Technical Career Internship Program,3 which is intended to recruit excellent students from earth sciences and engineering universities as early as their sophomore year for internships in fossil energy programs. Penn State University is participating with DOE in this program.
- Returning military veterans are viewed as a possible source of candidates. Vets are given a hiring preference for work in government, as well as educational benefits, and are often more focused on careers than younger candidates may be.
- Agencies that deal with green energy are generally having less trouble attracting workers. The DOE-EERE suggests that an “eco-consciousness” exists among potential workers that makes employment in renewable energy attractive. This trend is, perhaps, a mirror of what is seen in the solar and wind energy sectors. Employees seem to fall into a bimodal demographic distribution, with many under 30 years of age, and a significant group that is over 55 years of age. The generation in the middle is poorly represented. The DOE is using contractors to fill these gaps. Although these agencies also are struggling with the resistance to relocating common among the other agencies, they are compensating for this, to some degree, by allowing telecommuting and other high-tech off-site options.
- Federal managers are concerned about the low morale among their workers. Many, they believe, entered public service because they felt called to it, and are passionate about their work. Continued criticism of the federal workforce has a demoralizing effect.
The inability of the federal government to attract and retain enough qualified workers creates a situation that is concerning. If permits for exploration or extraction of minerals, oil, and gas are delayed by the lack of agency experts to process them, for example, the country is affected. Even more disturbing is the potential price in health and safety paid by workers in the energy and minerals industries.
In April 2010, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis commissioned NIOSH to convene an expert panel to complete an independent assessment of the internal review conducted by MSHA on the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Among their findings was the following: “if MSHA had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of—and possibly could have prevented—the UBB explosion” (Wade et al., 2012, p. ii). Inspectors, they found, did not identify or bring attention to
two of the three likely causes of the explosion that killed 29 miners—the buildup of methane gas that was ignited by friction from the mining process, and the accumulation of float dust that propagated the ignition and exploded through the mine. The independent review panel made the following statement about the ability of MSHA to hire and train a cadre of inspectors that could prevent these types of disasters in the future:
No amount of additional training or revisions to manuals and handbooks can fully address this problem. Nor is an increase in the number of inspectors a viable long-term solution. . . . These structural problems are exacerbated by changes in the demographic composition of the MSHA inspectorate. Retirements have, and are continuing to decimate the ranks of mining faculty at universities, seasoned mining engineers, mine managers, miners, NIOSH mining researchers, and MSHA inspectors, among others. The pool of potential hires is insufficient to replace the numbers being lost through attrition, and with increasing frequency, the new hires are completely inexperienced in mining. The MSHA IR Report describes in detail a workforce that is unprepared to undertake the full scope and complexity of inspecting the mines and overseeing the enforcement process. The inexperience of the inspectorate was identified as a factor in MSHA’s enforcement performance at UBB, and there is no reason to believe that District 4 has a disproportionate number of inexperienced inspectors. Given the paucity of candidates with even modest training or experience in mining-related fields, hiring a large cadre of new inspectors would not be sufficient to remedy MSHA’s enforcement deficiencies. The shortage of qualified personnel, which is likely to persist for the foreseeable future, underscores the need for new solutions. (Wade et al., 2012, p. 12)
Federal managers face many challenges. If the federal government is going to maintain its ability to provide essential services to the nation and its people, these challenges must be met. Attracting and keeping bright, talented employees with a passion for public service is paramount.
Discussions with federal managers involved with energy and extractive industries suggested some solutions to the workforce problem. Based on these suggestions, the following recommendations are made. They should be initiated as quickly as possible and some will take longer than others to become fully operational. The recommendations are ordered and labeled in terms of when
they would be expected to be operational. All of the recommended actions are expected to continue for the long term. Short term is defined as 2 years or less, medium term as 2 to 5 years, and long term as more than 5 years.
5.1 Agencies should consider partnering more closely with elementary and secondary schools in order to share their employees’ passion for science and technology, to assist with STEM education, and to communicate the many interesting career possibilities to students. (Short Term)
5.2 The federal government should consider using internships to create a stronger “farm system” that allows agencies to grow new talent and to give students considering federal careers interesting, practical, and meaningful work. The DOE Technical Career Internship Program could serve as a good example to emulate. (Short Term)
5.3 Agencies should develop a retention strategy for incoming workers. For example, after completing an agency-wide study of generational issues in their workforce, leaders at DOE developed a training program for managers in how to deal with different generations in the workforce, and how to recognize motivators for different generations. This program included a formal mentoring and coaching program, and the gathering of information on professional development needs for all employees. (Short Term)
5.4 Agencies should be positive, vocal advocates for federal employment. Young people will not choose careers with the government if they believe it to be a negative choice. (Short Term)
5.5 The federal government should empower the Office of Personnel Management to find the people the federal government needs and to offer them employment. Nontraditional students, employees with disabilities,4 military veterans, and young STEM-competent students are all candidates for federal careers. The federal government should consider streamlining the hiring system to reduce the time it takes to fill vacancies, and to be more competitive for top-quality candidates. The delays that are common in hiring and promotion are not tolerated by younger workers, and are often identified as reasons they are leaving federal service. (Medium Term)
5.6 MSHA should consider developing innovative ways to attract new workers, including expanding the use of the Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia, to offer certificate and focused degree programs that will enable incoming employees to move more quickly into higher-paying jobs, making service to MSHA more attractive. This facility should also be considered as a safety and health
4 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, including changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-325).
academy to train employees for other agencies, including OSHA and state OSH organizations, as well as industry. (Medium Term)