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The Attractiveness of Being Part of the Massive Federal Workforce: Is It for Everyone?

The federal workforce continues to be very attractive as a place to seek employment despite the constant discussion and banter about cutbacks and less government. The experts are pointing to the fact that as many federal employees are retiring in large numbers, there is the need to replace them with new talent to take on those responsible roles as they become vacant. This dynamic creates a variety of challenges for human resources management in the public sector. As Klinger and Nalbandian (2003) stated, due to the variety of political and economic pressures, the focus of public personnel management has moved from management of positions, as was the case under traditional civil service systems, to accomplishment of agency mission through work management and employee management. Further discussed is the notion that for public personnel managers accustomed to working primarily within civil service systems, this has meant recognizing the need for increased flexibility, and in some cases, workforce experimentation that would include flex-time and the heavy utilization of filling certain open positions with independent contractors either as individuals or whole entities.

As Moore (2013) pointed out, contractors are necessary because they support the federal government, which means that the agencies must be in charge. When there is lack of oversight and no one is monitoring compliance to ensure that the job is getting done right the first time or maintaining a balanced control, so much could become a very costly mistake. Other issues that could ensue include defining the job requirements for the independent contractor and employing constant open communication among the many varieties of independent contractors. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), it has been collaborating for some time with the Federal Acquisition Institute, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of Management and Budget on initiatives related to the effort of staying on the forefront of strengthening the federal government acquisition capacity, which includes a main thrust towards recruiting independent contractors. The importance of independent contractors has caused the federal government to embrace a number of concepts such as:

  • Branding and marketing the acquisition profession through a special interactive recruiting web page.
  • Streamlining the application process by trimming the job announcement briefly to present it in plain language, eliminating long essay-style questions and simplifying the assessment process so that it takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
  • Using a centralized hiring approach where appropriate, offering participating agencies the opportunity to share talent across the federal government.

In examining the responsibilities of human resource management in the public sector, specifically the federal government, one needs to examine the very specialized roles that exist and are outlined in their policies. The vastness of the federal workforce and its long list of contractors is not without its challenges. Each agency needs to be vigilant that their managers and supervisors are conforming to all federal and state laws. Independent contracting does, however, pose a set of other challenges related to the Internal Revenue Service guidelines as to what constitutes the position of an independent contractor. If the occupying agency manager is directly supervising, scheduling and directing the daily work activities of the independent contractor, then they might no longer be considered as an independent contractor and would then be entitled to a host of benefits and other employee considerations.

This is a balancing act for any agency manager where the emphasis on responsibility and oversight must take center stage, while not overstepping limitations. This is where the human resource management professionals would make sure that the duties to be performed and the output is fully stated in the contract as well as the remedies for non-compliance. Here, human resources management takes on a role of strategizing and fine-tuning the policy to be utilized. The Civil Service Commission was the driving force with all of its clearly defined roles and policies that would oversee the direct employees of all agencies that are aligned with the massive federal workforce. The Civil Service Act that came about abolished the United States Civil Service Commission and thus created the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and the Unites States Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The U.S. Office of Personnel Management primarily provides management guidance to the various agencies of the executive branch and issues regulations that control federal human resources.

There are several key elements that take the federal workforce to its highest level:

  • Streamlining the recruitment process should be elevated to the level where the success of hiring the very best candidates remains sustainable.
  • Clearly defined strategic compensation policy where the methodical approach is taking and comparing federal and private industry pay schedules for competitiveness in salary.
  • Training and development is the key to remain current and fresh in areas such as comparative industry standards.
  • A keenness to adhere to employees labor relations. The importance here has been vigilance towards internal mediation and alternative dispute resolution.

The federal workforce has something for a wide variety of professionals seeking careers in the public sector while serving the government of the United States in its many capacities. The role of federal human resources is forever evolving as new laws and initiatives are enacted or developed, thus creating new policy strategies and implementation. In order to keep current in terms of managing the applicant pool, rigorous assessment and strategic perspective in hiring, human resources staff and selection officials need to be appropriately trained.


Author: Horace A. Blake has served three full terms as HOA Commissioner for the City of Carrollton and has occupied an advisory role in matters relating to human resources issues under the direction of the city attorney. Blake has a total of 25 years in human resources management in the private sector and has volunteered with the county and the state in the capacity of teaching the youths on career management and job search techniques. Currently Blake serves on the City’s Storm Water Management Board along with being a DPA Candidate. As a member of ASPA, he is the Treasurer for the Section on Public Law and Administration.



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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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