Federal Manager's Daily Report

The federal workforce grew at a faster rate under the Trump administration than it did in the prior four years but within that overall growth were changes among agencies that reflected different priorities, according to an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service.

It said that during calendar years 2017-2020, the full-time federal workforce grew at an average of 0.9 percent, above the 0.3 percent average growth in the last four years of the Obama administration. The trend was not steady, however; employment dropped 0.3 percent in 2017 largely due to a three month hiring freeze that year while it grew 2 percent in 2020 largely due to pandemic-related needs, it said.

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Among agencies, those “key to Trump’s policy priorities had some of the largest workforce growth during his four years in office” including VA and DHS among major agencies and at the  Office of the U.S. Trade Representative among smaller ones. The OPM in contrast suffered a drop of nearly 2,000 positions to just under 2,400 over that period—mostly, but not totally, related to a shift of background investigation work from there to DoD in 2018-2019.

“There also were notable changes at the government’s labor relations institutions. The Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees the relationship between the federal government and civil service employees, saw an average decrease of 5.1% annually. And at the agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s labor laws, the National Labor Relations Board, the workforce fell by an average of 4.7% each year. Similarly, the Department of Labor’s count of full-time employees decreased by an average of 3.1%,” it said.

Other findings included that during the Trump term:

*  Average annual retirements were 0.7 percent higher and resignations 14.1 percent higher than in the prior four years but “because resignations consistently account for less than half of all voluntary separations from federal civil service, this increase did not drastically shift the government-wide attrition rate.”

*  The share of employees under 30 increased from to 6.8 percent but that is still far below the private sector average.

*  The government continued a long-term shift toward more “highly skilled knowledge-based work in professional and administrative occupations” especially administrative and program specialists, IT work, and nursing. Positions in science-related fields grew on average by 1 percent over the four years, spurred by 4 percent growth in 2020, the first year of the pandemic after declining in 2017.

*  The geographic distribution of federal employees remained about the same although the move of two Agriculture components from the national capital “cost both agencies in institutional knowledge and expertise that will take time to replace.”

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