Patriotism, With Pay

In five years, one-third of federal emergency workers will retire. With the possibility of a protracted campaign against terrorism, and the average age of federal workers now reaching 45, the government is having to step up recruitment efforts.

This campaign to fill key jobs is no less important than maintaining recruitment levels in the military, and it deserves just as high a priority.

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for instance, nearly half of the staff will retire within five years. This is the frontline agency for response to all kinds of disasters. Short-term solutions at FEMA and other offices include summoning back recent retirees with a public relations blitz, and offering flexible schedules, telecommuting, and other incentives.

The administration, though, is at odds over how to address the shortage in the future, and that needs to be resolved. Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels wants the private sector to compete for some 100,000 federal jobs during the next two years. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thinks creating better jobs - and a better job environment - will attract worthy people to worthy government careers.

Civil service careers should remain vital, viable options for many Americans. But the government must be willing to take a hard look at practices too long in place, such as outdated employee-classification systems, pay gaps between the federal and the private sector, and layers of unnecessary management. Tying the rewards of civil service work to individual performance rather than years of service should help, too.

The economic downturn actually presents an opportunity for government recruiters. From CIA agents to EPA monitors to FEMA employees, a chance to serve the nation in these key posts may be one bright spot in an otherwise bleak employment picture.

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