Report Finds Attrition Rates in Government Not at Crisis Levels

Is the federal workforce experiencing a crisis of attrition? Not according to a new report.

A new report from the Partnership for Public Service concludes that the “government is not in crisis” when it comes to attrition levels among federal employees.

Using data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM, the report looked at the attrition rate for fiscal year 2021 from various angles in reaching this conclusion. In fact, not only was the federal government not generally experiencing an attrition crisis, it found that the federal workforce actually grew in this time period.

As the report states:

We analyzed the fiscal 2021 attrition rate, a period that ran from October 2020 through September 2021, for various groups and categories. This critical period saw a presidential transition and continued uncertainty in the workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. We focused on voluntary attrition—the number of quits and retirements in a fiscal year divided by the number of employees at the end of the previous fiscal year.

Despite claims to the contrary, we found that government is not in crisis. The attrition rate in fiscal 2021 was only slightly higher than the previous year and consistent with pre-pandemic rates. Moreover, the federal government continued to grow in fiscal 2021, demonstrating the stability of the career workforce.

However, the report did say that certain elements of the federal workforce are “in a state of stress,” meaning that they had higher rates of attrition than the governmentwide average.

Some highlights from the report include:

  • The government wide attrition rate in FY 2021 was 6.1%. Although this was higher than 2020, it is consistent with the attrition rates in 2019 and 2018.
  • The federal workforce actually increased in size over the last several fiscal years, going from 1,825,762 in FY 2014 to 1,956,539 at the end of FY 2020, an increase of 7%.
  • The agency with the highest attrition rate was the Department of Veterans Affairs (7.1%) while the Environmental Protection Agency was lowest (4.2%).
  • Health occupations had the highest attrition rate (7.1%).
  • The attrition rate was slightly higher among females (6.4% for females vs. 6% for males).
  • The highest rates of attrition were among the Senior Executive Service (9.2%) and General Schedule levels 1-6 (10.3%). The lowest rates were GS 13-15 (5%).
  • Federal employees over age 60 had the highest attrition rates of all groups at 16.7% due primarily to retirements. The lowest rate was among federal employees ages 40-49 (2.8%).

The full report contains additional details and analysis of attrition rates by age, occupation, grade level and other metrics.

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.