The federal government will need to hire an additional 200,000 workers over the next three years as a result of President Obama’s stimulus plan and additional spending included in his budget plan.
That may sound like a lot of jobs, but it’s just slightly less than half of the 384,000 additional employees Uncle Sam already needed to pick up between 2009 and 2012 just to replace existing federal employees expected to leave their jobs. “That 384,000 is a projection for retirements, voluntary separations, reductions in force and a few folks who will die on the job,” says John Palguta, vice president of policy for the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington, DC, advocacy group working to advance public-sector careers.
With a total of nearly 600,000 openings over the next three years, what options could there be for you?
About 85 percent of federal jobs are located outside Washington, DC. But, since many stimulus-related jobs involve command, control, tracking or oversight, a sizable proportion -- up to 22 percent -- could be located in the District of Columbia itself, Palguta says.
The federal government currently employs 1.9 million civilians -- about the same number it did during the Kennedy administration. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton downsized the federal bureaucracy, while Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush increased it, Palguta says.
Some of this administration’s 200,000 extra workers will be added thanks to changing priorities. For example, President Obama’s 2010 budget increases funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA), so it can hire additional employees to work through a backlog of cases. The agency will hire more than 5,000 people by September 2009, says Kia S. Green, an SSA spokesperson. “These include front-line positions in the local field offices and Teleservice Centers as well as legal support positions in our hearing offices,” she says.
Another budget priority -- better care for veterans -- resulted in a $25 billion increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “A good part of that will go into hiring more medical and health professionals in the VA,” Palguta says.
Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, says agencies expected to add staff due directly to the stimulus include the Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of Defense; the Food and Drug Administration; the Border Patrol; the Small Business Administration; the departments of Labor, Education, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development; and the National Science Foundation.
Many agencies are still toting up the numbers. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates it will take tens of thousands of contractors and employees to handle clean up, assessments, design and monitoring of the projects in the areas it will target with stimulus money. These areas include Superfund sites, brownfields, leaking underground storage tanks, clean water, drinking water and reducing diesel emissions.
Bring on the Watchdogs
With so much stimulus money flowing out of Washington, DC, virtually every agency will have to hire additional auditors, attorneys and investigators to handle the fraud that will inevitably follow. In government, those positions are part of the Inspector General’s office within each agency or department.
“The Inspectors General are going to be beefing up staff,” Palguta says. The Department of Health & Human Services, for example, has $27 million for increased oversight. In addition, Congress slotted $50 million to create the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, a group of Inspectors General that will watch over stimulus spending.
Given the talk about tighter regulatory scrutiny of the financial markets, there will also likely be jobs openings at the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Government Accountability Office planned to start hiring 100 people familiar with government auditing by mid-March 2009, says Patrina Clark, deputy chief human capital officer.
Prior federal government auditing experience is great, but it’s not the only way to qualify for these positions. “If they’ve done any kind of state or government auditing, or they’ve audited public entities or nonprofits, that would be qualifying experience,” Clark says.
Focus on the Mission
If a federal job is your best career move, don’t look for a stimulus job -- look for a government job, Palguta says. “Look at who’s got a job to fill and which agencies have a mission that you’re interested in,” he suggests. Gather career information by visiting the official federal government hiring site as well as the individual agency Web sites.
Expect to have a lot of company when you apply. In January 2009, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it wanted to hire 2,100 professional staffers, it received 230,000 applications. “There are a lot of people vying for those jobs,” an FBI spokesperson says.
As long as you’re not working in retail, chances are the federal government hires people from your profession, Simon says. For example, a VA hospital hires everyone from food-service workers right up to brain surgeons. Even at an advanced career level, professionals from information technology, legal, law enforcement, healthcare, science, engineering, program management, purchasing and education are all in demand.
And, working for the federal government often means swapping a bottom-line focus for a public-interest one. “You’re concerned with what’s in the best interest of your fellow citizens and how to best serve them,” she says.