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Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce

Lawmakers and former federal officials on Monday said they were concerned about a lack of interest in federal government jobs among young adults and stressed that changes needed to be made to attract the next generation of workers.

According to the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, more than one-third of federal civilian employees are eligible for retirement in the next five years, and fewer than 6 percent of employees are under the age of 30.

Reps. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyGrowing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Today: Vaccine distribution starts, Electoral College meets. MORE (R-Fla.) and Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector Democratic lawmakers call for Pence to invoke 25th Amendment, remove Trump from office 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics MORE (D-Va.) said at The Hill’s Rebuilding the Federal Workforce event that the Trump administration’s handling of nonpartisan civil service positions — along with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic and relatively low pay and benefits — is a factor in the lack of interest in government service.

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They told the event's moderator, The Hill's Steve Clemons, that they hope to reverse that trend under the next administration.

“I hope that a lot of people who have felt that they’ve had to leave government service over the past several years will feel that it’s safe to come back and that they will be respected and treated with dignity and allowed to perform their functions, irrespective of political affiliation,” Wexton, a co-sponsor of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, said.

Rooney cited the gutting of the State Department under former Secretary Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson: 'We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea' State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce MORE; moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado, leading large numbers of longtime staffers to quit; and the conversion of career civil servants into political appointees.

All together, the lawmakers said, the moves have resulted in a loss of policy expertise.

“Converting career bureaucrats into political appointees is a very dangerous precedent and opens the door to politicizing the bureaucracy,” Rooney said at the event sponsored by Nokia. “One of the most important things we have in this country is a nonpartisan, dedicated career government service in all areas of the government.” 

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Eileen Harrington, the former executive director of the Federal Trade Commission, stressed the importance of protecting federal employees through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The MSPB has had vacancies for the entire duration of the Trump administration and has been completely vacant since the retirement of its last remaining member in February 2019.

“There’s been no place for career civil servants to go with their legitimate grievances and complaints during the Trump administration,” she said. 

It will take time to rebuild the workforce, the lawmakers and officials agreed.

“We’re going to need to rebuild and restart from beginning and attract more young people into federal service,” Wexton said. “We need to treat them with dignity and respect and restore the goal of working for public service for the next generation of American workers.”