After Trump: A Surge of Federal Employees Leaving Government?

With a significant percentage of federal employees indicating they may quit if Donald Trump should be elected, the number of retirement claims should have surged more than usual in January. That did not happen.

A number of federal employees said they would leave government service if Donald Trump were elected president. Several publications touted results of a survey that only 65% of federal government employees would commit to keeping their federal job if he were elected. Another figure cited was that 25% of federal employees would quit. (Also see a survey not widely reported in main street media: Big Jump for Trump in Reader’s Presidential Preference Survey)

As we know, our new president is Donald Trump. So what has happened? Are the exits crowded with the surge of departures from government?

Retirements and Election Results

The federal workforce has a high number of older workers. If the poll results were accurate or if people were telling pollsters their true intentions, one would expect the number of federal employees retiring to jump dramatically in January.

The January numbers did jump dramatically. OPM reports that the number of backlogged applications was up 53% in January over the previous month. (See OPM’s Retirement Backlog Surges 53% in January)

We can anticipate seeing headlines that there has been a large surge in federal retirements because Trump has been elected president based on the January 2017 figures.

Comparing Retirement Figures

These latest retirement figures do not indicate a surge of unexpected departures though. An annual surge of retirements from employees picking the best time for them to retire takes place every January.

Are the figures from January 2017 substantially larger than usual? The retirement figures are actually lower than in previous years.

The table below shows the historical trend of the number of new retirement claims that are reflected in the January data from OPM.

Month/Year New Claims
January 2017 15,317
January 2016 15,423
January 2015 18,629
January 2014 17,383
January 2013 22,187

In September 2015, the latest figures available, almost 28% of the federal workforce was 55 and older. Many of these federal workers will normally leave federal service shortly after they qualify for a federal retirement pension. By comparison, even by the year 2020, about 25% of the U.S. workforce will be composed of workers 55 and over.

Federal employees who retire will receive a retirement annuity for the remainder of their lives. The federal retirement system is a major reason people make a career out of working for the federal government. January is the month with the largest number of retirement applications, regardless of election results.

We do not yet know the number of federal employees who left federal service after the election of Donald Trump and before they were eligible to retire. Those figures will not be available from OPM for some time.

Federal Retirement Applications and Election Results

Based on the number of retirement applications in January, there will not be a surge of federal employees leaving government service because Donald Trump is now the American president.

That does not mean that 35% of employees who indicated they would not commit to staying with the government liked the election results. They probably voted for Hillary Clinton. A few probably voted for the Green party candidate or the Libertarian candidate.

Some will retire. Many were probably just expressing their political views with a dramatic flair when responding to the survey. Some were probably hoping their answer would impact other voters.

With a fairly high percentage of older employees in government, many will retire for a variety of reasons. One reason may include their dislike of policies being pursued by the Trump administration. Probably a larger number of federal employees want to travel or spend time with their grandchildren. The election results are unlikely to have created a stampede of federal employees exiting federal office buildings.

In all likelihood, most of the 35% who expressed their unhappiness with candidate Trump will continue working for Uncle Sam until they retire or until something better comes along. The election results may be one reason for leaving; it will probably not be the main reason and certainly not the only reason.

It is also possible that the federal government will lose many of its younger employees who do not like the election results.

A personal opinion is that this will not occur. Employment with the federal government is a good job with many benefits generally not available in most private sector companies. Those benefits and other less tangible factors will be more important than the results of one election.

Did older federal employees react differently than younger ones? We know the data on retirements. When the data are compiled and released by the Office of Personnel Management in coming months, we will know if younger generations of federal employees reacted in a different way.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47