Federal Workforce:

Pay, Recruitment, and Retention of Federal Employees

GGD-87-37: Published: Feb 10, 1987. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the effects of the pay disparity between the federal government and the private sector by examining: (1) attrition rates and recruiting difficulties in the federal scientific and engineering community; (2) attrition rates in other occupations; and (3) federal recruitment problems in general.

GAO found that: (1) Congress introduced eight bills to establish special pay and personnel systems for certain agencies or groups of federal employees to alleviate inadequate pay and hiring and retention difficulties; (2) factors such as the state of the labor market, the particular occupation, and the age, sex, and education of employees affect attrition so that the occupation with the largest pay gap may not have the highest attrition rate; (3) chemists and engineers have large pay gaps but low quit rates, as compared to clerk-typists and secretaries, who have small pay gaps but high quit rates; (4) federal white-collar workers have a lower quit rate than those in the private sector because of the fact that they tend to be older and have more years of service and the lack of portability of civil service retirement benefits; (5) although the Department of Defense's overall attrition rate remained the same between 1977 and 1984, the rate for engineers doubled during the same period; (6) 7 of 10 civilian agencies surveyed in 1985 stated that they had significant problems in recruiting scientists and engineers, and the military services expressed concern about the quality and quantity of people they were able to obtain; and (7) civilian agencies attribute recruiting problems to the slow federal hiring process and to federal employment's poor image.

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