Congresswoman Worried About a ‘Graying [Federal] Workforce’

One Congresswoman is worried about the possible repercussions from more federal employees retiring from public service.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) is worried that there is too much aging going on among America’s federal workforce.

She recently sent a letter to the new Office of Personnel Management director Dale Cabaniss giving a heads up on a bill she intends to introduce to direct the agency to develop a recruitment plan for the federal workforce as well as expressing the sense of urgency she sees among the advancing age of federal employees.

The bill would require OPM to develop a plan for recruiting new workers into federal service within three months of the bill’s enactment.

Norton cited some figures in her letter as to why she thinks there is a problem looming in the federal workforce.

“…as older federal employees opt to retire, the government risks permanently losing much of its institutional knowledge if federal agencies cannot find adequate replacements,” wrote Norton.

She stressed the need for the federal government to beef up its recruiting efforts at college campuses and expand on its offering of benefits to entice more people to work for the government.

Norton has been a proponent of various expanded benefits for federal employees. For example, she recently reintroduced legislation that would provide short-term disability insurance for federal employees.

Another bill that she sponsored recently became law that would require federal buildings that are open to the public and have public restrooms to also have designated lactation rooms for breastfeeding.

A copy of Norton’s letter to OPM is included below.

October 8, 2019

The Honorable Dale Cabaniss
Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20415

Dear Director Cabaniss:

I write regarding the urgent need to recruit and retain new workers into federal service. With the aging of the federal workforce, it is more important than ever that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) direct resources and efforts to recruiting new workers into public service.

As you know, the average age of federal employees has steadily increased over the course of the last two decades, hitting 47.5 years in 2017.  In the private sector, 54% of workers are over 40 years old, while in the federal workforce, that number is 69%. At the end of last year, only 6% of the federal workforce were under 30, while almost a quarter of private-sector employees were under 30.

There are numerous consequences to an aging federal workforce. For example, as older federal employees opt to retire, the government risks permanently losing much of its institutional knowledge if federal agencies cannot find adequate replacements.

Possible solutions to the problem of a graying workforce include increased federal recruitment at college and university campuses, increased technological innovation in how applications are submitted, and a greater number of internships. Improved benefits, including paid family leave, increased telework, and short-term disability insurance allowing coverage for non-work-related injury or illness or pregnancy, can also likely increase recruitment and retention of employees by the federal government.

I will be introducing legislation to direct OPM to develop a recruitment plan. However, I believe that there are important steps OPM can and should be taking immediately, even before enactment of my bill.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and request that you respond to this letter, in writing, within 30 days.

Eleanor Holmes Norton

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.