Defense Department, Other Federal Agencies

The "best and brightest" are avoiding government service, says NY Times

The Rat has apparently joined a growing movement in government by departing from his years of service: the brain drain. And according to the NY Times, new brains aren’t coming in to replace the old ones because of the draw of places like Google.

A survey quoted in the Times article by Phillip Taubman, on the front page of the dead-tree edition, cited a 2007 M.I.T survey of students that found that very few systems engineering students were headed into defense or government positions– “28.7 percent of undergraduates were headed for work in finance, 13.7 in management consulting and just 7.5 percent in aerospace and defense. The top 10 employers included McKinsey, Google, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bain, JPMorgan and Oracle — but not a single military contractor or government office.”

There’s a simple reason for the lack of interest, really: money. The survey showed that the average annual starting salary in finance and high-tech was more than $70,000, compared with $37,000 at the Defense Department,” Taubman wrote.

Combined with the waves of retirement over the past few years, that means that the government–and especially the DOD–has been unable to replace the rapidly evaporating braintrust that handled things like, for example, contract oversight–resulting in things like the Air Force’s tanker contract woes. Folks the Rat has talked with point to the brain drain as being responsible for more and more of the process management on contracts being handed over to the contractors themselves–which is like putting, if you’ll pardon the rodent pejorative, like putting squirrels in charge of counting nuts. (And apparently, according to Defense Systems’ Forward Observer blog, analysts think so too.)

So far, the solutions discussed by government officials aren’t exactly raking in the new braintrust. Becoming an “employer of choice” for Gen Y, as they’re constantly called, is going to take a lot more than making sure current employees are happy ambassadors of workplace joy, or making sure that they can surf Facebook and YouTube from work. The hiring process, which director of the Office of Personnel Management, Kay Coles James admitted in a 2002 interview was actually driving applicants away because of its complexity and length, hasn’t really improved all that much. And to be blunt, the attraction of working on the kinds of interesting problems government folks get to work on is probably not strong enough to draw someone away from an employer offering twice the money AND cool toys.


4 thoughts on “The "best and brightest" are avoiding government service, says NY Times

  1. Brenda Cummings says:

    I will miss your in print rants… and will try to keep up to date with your blog. Just want you to know you do have at least one more fan out here. You’re generally the only reason I read GCN!


  2. Tim says:

    Your last paragraph is so right. I’ve been applying for government jobs for some time now. I have been a temp employee for the Army and did well enough that my boss put me in for a commendation and pushed enough that I received it and a commander’s coin. Right now I’m in a position with a defense contractor (I’ve also had others), so I’m experienced, well trained, certified, cleared and have awards proving I work hard, but I rarely even receive a call for an interview.

    One of the worst drawbacks of the system is the fact that they cannot seem to coordinate and/or enforce what coordination has been ordered. Federal agencies are required to use the OPM website and have finally started to posting their openings there like they are supposed to. Unfortunately they can’t seem to get together on their resume/application submission process. Army, Navy, Air Force, DHS, VA and so many others use different websites for you to apply from, getting the same information just moved around a little, instead of the one OPM format with any specific extras (KSAs, etc) separate.

    To make matters worse, many job postings are only put up because the law requires it, they already have someone in mind to fill the position and if you are a threat to their candidate they cancel the position until they can reword the listing to get who they want. Applicants that do not have an IN, have to apply blind to each position hoping it isn’t one of those they are wasting their time on. The extras of some agencies (DHS and VA are good for this) take a lot of time to fill out, some seemingly because they have old English teachers who want an essay instead of “have you done this?”. The last time I bothered to apply for any of DHS’s positions they still hadn’t bothered to make it possible for an applicant to store the answers to common questions and KSAs to save on the tedium. Fill all that out just so they can cancel to get their pet in, no thanks!

  3. Sadly, the complexity and inexplicable nature of government recruiting as well as the “clear as mud” application process do inhibit people who wish to serve and have talents that are needed. The pay scale isn’t everything, but it is a large part of the problem too.

  4. Lindy Sampson says:

    I was a little saddened to read that Packet Rat would no longer be available in print. But was happier to find that the writing of Packet Rat would be available to me anywhere, while on the web. Almost two months after the announcement I have yet to read a new series of comments. I am going throuh Packet Rat withdrawal!

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