America is hemorrhaging knowledge as federal employees rush to retire

Yet, in their pandering to the general public’s concerns over the national debt, many elected leaders in Washington have declared war on America’s
federal employees – 85 percent of whom live and vote outside of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.

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During my final years in the federal workforce, I served at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, as an Operations Research Analyst for the Department of the Army. I was part of a team that created a new software application for our soldiers to forecast the location of future mortar attacks. Today, I’m proud that this computer software is a part of standard Army mapping software and has, hopefully, saved many soldiers’ lives.

This is just one example, among millions, of major achievements by our federal workforce in recent years. It’s troubling to me that if some members of Congress have their way, there will be fewer such successes in the future.

To fix America’s budget woes, leading lawmakers have repeatedly singled out the pay and benefits of federal workers. Just this month, Congress has debated plans to cut federal employee paychecks and jobs to offset the costs of the payroll tax holiday, a major highway bill, U.S. Postal Service reform, and towards cuts in the Pentagon budget.

It’s not fair to repeatedly ask fewer than 2 percent of the nation’s workers to shoulder the nation’s burden. Such inequality is also not in America’s best interests, and there will be many unintended consequences.

Even though I loved my job, neither my morale nor budget could tolerate the constant stream of abuse from politicians, and, sadly, I foresaw little
chance of improvement. So I retired.

I am sure my singular departure was not felt by America, but a stark truth will soon reverberate from coast to coast: I was not the only one headed for the exit. Hundreds of thousands of our nation’s most skilled and experienced federal workers are right behind me.

More than 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. Attendance at federal worker retirement seminars has soared in the past year. And, according to a new report from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, federal employee retirement rates surged 24 percent in 2011.

Our country is hemorrhaging expertise that we cannot afford to lose. It is vital that we stem the tide of federal retirement to ensure that we can
gradually pass the torch to the next generation of federal leaders, as we have for more than two centuries.

The only way we can succeed at this transition is to stop making our federal employees our national scapegoats. Before long, federal agencies will not be able to hire or retain quality people to execute vital federal programs. If Congress continues on its current path, it will destroy the civil service, and it will take decades to rebuild it.

My fellow federal workers, with four or 40 years of experience, are committed to restoring America’s strength. We simply need more of our elected officials in Washington to commit to us so we can keep doing the jobs we love for our country.

Bornman, a former operations research analyst for the Department of the Army, is vice president of Chapter 1162 of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE).