The weakening of the federal workforce has reached the point where “critical operations might fail in stressful events,” according to a report by the Senior Executives Association. “A weakening in the capacity of the government’s workforce and its organizational structures is plainly evident, and so is a perceptible loss of collective resilience to detect and respond to adverse events,” it said.
One main issue it identified is that the number of federal workers has not kept pace with the growth of the American population over the last 60 years. While increasing use of contractors has filled some of that gap, “both the amount and range of work required of the federal workforce has continued to go up, just as the scope and complexity of executive branch functions have also increased,” it said.
Nor have productivity improvements over that period filled the gap since much of the gains achieved were in manufacturing and other non-governmental sectors, it said. While new digital technologies offer potential for improving the government’s productivity, “they also add to the expectations of public service — including the expectation of 24/7 availability, an increasing volume of emails read and data sets to analyze, increased interruptions during the day through different modes of communication, and multiple demands for attention throughout the course of week or emergency response event.”
Meanwhile, recent technologies such as social media have been “weaponized” against individual federal employees, or groups of them, “resulting in a chilling workplace climate and constant anxiety about the potential of false allegations.”
The report characterizes the state of the workforce as one that has “challenges attracting and retaining talent, demeans non-partisan civil servants, prevents its workforce from making decisions, discourages a culture of learning and adapting, and risks failing when stressed by foreseeable contingencies.”