NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Some Federal Workers More Likely to Die than Lose Jobs

July 21, 2011

Federal employees' job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired, a USA Today analysis finds.

Death -- rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs -- is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.

  • The federal government fired 0.55 percent 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 percent 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 percent last year and nearly 100 percent for those on the job more than a few years.

San Francisco State University management professor John Sullivan, an expert on employee turnover, says the low departure rates show a failure to release poor performers and those with obsolete skills.

  • USA Today found that nearly 60 percent of firings occur in the first two years of employment, mostly workers on probation and outside the federal job protection system.
  • Blue-collar workers are twice as likely to be fired as white-collar employees.
  • White-collar federal workers have almost total job security after a few years on the job.
  • The nearly half-million federal employees earning $100,000 or more enjoyed a 99.82 percent job security rate in 2010.

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "Some Federal Workers More Likely to Die than Lose Jobs," USA Today, July 20, 2011.

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