Why Federal Employees Aren’t Quick to Leave Federal Service

by | Jun 15, 2017

Last Updated May 23, 2024
Federal Employees Aren’t Quick to Leave Federal Service


Over 2.2 million civilian employees work in the federal government. A 2016 survey conducted by the Government Business Council found that 14 percent of federal workers said they would leave the government and 11 percent said they “may” leave if Donald Trump became president.

He’s been in office now for a few months and there hasn’t been this mass exodus of employees like originally thought. Why? It turns out the government offers some of the best pay, benefits, and in some cases, higher job satisfaction than its private sector counterparts.

Do Federal Employees Quit?

The quit rate for federal employees is currently sitting around 0.5 percent. That’s below pre-recession rates of 0.6-0.7 percent. The wild thing about this stat is even if the quit rate for federal employees doubled to 1 percent, it would still be less than the current private sector rate of 2.4 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office found unless you have a Ph.D./professional degree, you’re probably making the same, if not more, money than in the private sector.

Employee Benefits

Less than 10 percent of private industry workers have a defined benefit retirement plan, like the FERS Basic Benefit Plan. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, less than half of all private industry workers have access to a defined contribution plan, like the Thrift Savings Plan.

Federal workers have employer-provided health insurance, a benefit available to less than 60 percent of private sector workers. A federal worker can also keep their health plan in retirement, a rare thing in the private sector.

According to the CBO, on average for workers at all education levels, benefits for federal workers cost about $26 per hour worked, whereas benefits for private sector employees with similar characteristics cost $18 per hour worked.


Almost 94,000 federal workers retired in 2016 (less than 4 percent of the active workforce) and OPM says retirement applications are running at about the same rate as last year. About a third of the workforce is eligible to retire, but proposed changes to federal benefits this year isn’t a good reason to retire. If Congress enacts the current budget proposals, contributions for FERS employees will increase in 2018 by 1 percent, and in future years, but that will be offset by higher pay (proposed 1.9 percent increase effective January 2018).

Eliminating the FERS Supplemental Retirement and the FERS retiree COLA (CSRS retirees will receive a 0.5 percent decrease in their COLA) will discourage early retirements, especially if under the age of 62 and ineligible for Social Security.


Unless you work for the EPA, who has proposed cutbacks, the chances of being caught up in a RIF over the next year isn’t very high. Even at the EPA, the worst-case scenario is 3 out of 4 workers are slated to keep their jobs.

Some agencies, such as the USDA, have proposed workforce declines in the range of 5-6 percent, but once the normal rates of retirement, elimination of job vacancies, and possible job buyout offers are factored in, the actual number of employees facing involuntary separation in most agencies in very low.

On the other hand, increases in the workforce are planned at the DoD, VA, and DHS. The total number of federal civilian next year will be roughly the same as today.

What Will 2019 Bring?

All of this could change in 2019. The Presidents’ reorganization plan has yet to be approved by Congress. Government reorganization could lead to larger layoffs and a big change to federal benefits.

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