Is Federal HR Really Shrinking?

I recently wrote a post titled “Federal HR is Mission Critical. Is it Mission Capable.” In it I outlined the reasons why I believe the entire federal HR apparatus, including OPM, hiring managers and operating HR offices, need to be substantially improved. This is the second of this series and will address the issue of shrinking HR offices.

There is no good source that lays out the exact number of HR folks in government, so the best proxy is the number of HR specialists, clerks and assistants. Those folks comprise the bulk of the staff doing HR work, although many HR offices and HR-related organizations have many more employees who are not in an HR job series. It is safe to estimate that these numbers understate the number of HR folks by at least 10%, and probably more like twice that.

I was particularly interested in the number of HR positions because I have heard so many people talking about how HR is shrinking everywhere. Even at OPM’s recent event announcing the Hiring Excellence campaign, one participant said ““The HR staffs are shrinking, but the workload is increasing.” I am certain there are HR organizations that have suffered reductions, but it is not accurate to assume that applies everywhere.

Let’s take a look at some data. If we get in our wayback machine and go back 10 years to 2006, we would find 23,075 HR specialists and 13,494 HR clerks and assistants, for a total of 36,569. The numbers have gone up and down a bit over the past 10 years, and now we have 28,265 HR specialists and 11,031 clerks and assistants, for a total of 39,296. Since 2006, the number of HR specialists has increased by 22.5% and the number of HR clerks and assistants has decreased by 18.3%. The total number of people in the GS-201 and GS-203 job series has increased by 7.5%.

HR Job Series History 2006 - 2015

If we dig a little deeper, we find that OPM merged the military personnel jobs with civilian HR when the GS-201 classification standard was rewritten (in 2000). So – let’s take DoD positions in the GS-201 series out of the mix and see what happens. In 2006, there were 10,690 GS-201s in DoD. That left 12,285 non-Defense GS-201 jobs. In 2015, there were 13,267 GS-201 jobs in DoD, leaving 14,998 non-Defense GS-201s. The increase in non-Defense GS-201 positions from 2006 to 2015 is 22% – almost exactly what the overall increase in the number of GS-201 positions government-wide.

I discussed my preliminary findings with a colleague who is a former HR director and she pointed out that many of the reductions in HR occurred as a result of the National Performance Review (NPR), during the Clinton administration. One of the NPR’s big goals was reducing the number of “control” positions like HR and procurement.

I went back to the oldest data available in OPM’s Fedscope (1998) and found the number of HR specialists, adjusting for the changes in the classification standard in 2000, was 21,368. Exact numbers on NPR reductions are hard to come by, but in 1996 the NPR reported that 2,500 HR positions had been eliminated since 1993. If we are very generous and assume all of those jobs were specialists (and assuming a few more reductions between 1996 and 1998), that would put the pre-NPR HR specialists at somewhere around 24,000. Even using that number as a benchmark, the number of HR specialist jobs dipped and then went back up to a number that is greater than the pre-NPR numbers.

It is safe to say that some HR offices are shrinking, but if that is true, it is also has to be true that others have grown. The total number of HR specialists has grown substantially in the last decade, while the number of HR clerks and assistants has dropped. Much of the decrease in clerk and assistant jobs can be attributed to increasing automation. No matter how we look at it, the government is spending more money on HR positions than it did in the past. In the spirit of the fact-checking that is common in this election year, I would rate the claim that HR is shrinking as “Mostly False.”

Thank a Government Worker This Week

Thank-you-imageMay 1 – 7 is Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) – set aside to recognize the work done by government employees at local, state and Federal levels. Government employees do not always get the thanks they deserve for the great work they do. Instead of the bad-mouthing of government workers by politicians using them to make political points, let’s try a different approach this week. Think about how government workers have supported you in your day-to-day life and, where you can, say Thank You to them for what they do every day.

I will start with some “Thank You” PSRW greetings for government workers who I appreciate and I encourage everyone who reads this post to do the same.

Thank you to the Defense Logistics Agency. I spent 14 years in DLA and still believe it is one of the finest organizations in the federal government. If this week is like most at DLA, they will process over 500,000 requisitions and award 50,000 contract lines. That’s more than most agencies would do in a year or two. They will support our warfighters around the world. They will save the taxpayers money, too. Thank You! DLA Employees.

Thank you to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Administration, whose work helps keep the banks and credit unions we rely on responsible and who manage the insurance programs that protect our deposits. Thank You! FDIC and NCUA employees.

Thank you to the Department of Veterans Affairs, who ensure our nation’s veterans receive the benefits and care they have earned and who manage our national cemeteries.  Thank You! VA employees.

Thank you to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, whose work has inspired and fascinated me since I was a little boy. When NASA landed men on the moon, I watched live on television. When they landed the Curiosity rover on Mars 43 years later, I was up in the middle of the night watching. It is hard to think of an organization that has done so much to inspire scientific curiosity (no pun intended). Thank You! NASA employees.

Thank you to the civilian employees of our Armed Forces. DoD civilians include the men and women of the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers who repair and rebuild aircraft and engines, the non-appropriated fund employees who run base recreational facilities, mission support professionals in HR, finance, IT, procurement and facilities, and thousands more. Thank You! DoD civilians.

Thank you to the National Park Service. This year marks the centennial of one of the greatest treasures of our country – our National Parks and Monuments. The Park Service honors and preserves our past, protects some of the most spectacular vistas in America, and makes them available to all of us. Thank You! to the employees of the National Park Service.

Thank you to the support staff in every agency at every level of government. You do not often get the recognition you deserve for the support you provide to your agencies and their customers. Your contributions may not be as visible, but agencies would not be able to get their jobs done without you. Thank You! to the support staff.

Thank you to the men and women of our armed forces. Your sacrifice provides the security we need to maintain our way of life. Risking your life, spending months at a time away from your families, working long hours in tough and sometimes life-threatening situations, you are truly the guardians of freedom. Thank You! to our American Armed Forces.

Thank you to the Diplomats. Whether appointees, career Foreign Service, or the people who support them, you represent America abroad, support economic development and are the face of America to other nations. You risk your life to do a vital job. Thank You! to the Diplomats.

Thank you to the Law Enforcement Officers. You have some of the toughest jobs in government. You work long hours and risk your life to protect everyone else. You have tough jobs, but you continue to do them day after day, year after year. Our society depends on men and women like you. Thank You! to the Law Enforcement Officers.

Thank you to everyone else in government. Public service is more than just a job. For many public servants it is a calling – a way to contribute to our society every day. You may not be in one of the highly visible jobs, but we depend on you and your work. You make a difference every day, and most Americans appreciate what you do. Thank You! to Public Servants everywhere.

And while we are thanking public employees, let’s also think about supporting their efforts in the best way we can – with a modernized civil service that ensures they receive the pay and benefits we would want any good employer to provide. Let’s make the federal government a model of what is best about working and living in America. Nothing would honor our civil servants more.PSRW_logo_300x134