Which State Department attrition rate do you like best?

One of our readers wrote and pointed us to a new report on attrition rates released by the Partnership for Public Service with a note that says “14.5% of State new hires quit after two years – seems to not match what the Director General put out in its stats.” 

Joe Davidson’s column in WaPo is here – Attrition is high among new workers at many government agencies (Friday, November 5, 2010; 2:08 AM).

The PPS report indicates that the attrition rate for newly hired employees varies widely among the agencies, with some federal workplaces such as the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security losing more than one-third of their new workers within two years. 

WaPo’s Davidson writes that “It’s scary to think that an agency so important to the security of the United States was being run by so many people with so little experience. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that on the Partnership’s 2010 list of Best Places to Work, Homeland Security ranks 28th out of 32 agencies in its category.”

Quite sobering this  — “As of the end of fiscal 2009, only five percent of federal employees had served less than one year, and just 10 percent had up to two years of service. With a large percentage of this already small population of new hires leaving, the federal government’s pipeline of future managers and leaders could be greatly diminished. Government has few opportunities to build its workforce and can ill afford to lose existing talent, especially when the wave of retirements seems poised to become reality.”

The report also says that “while attrition of recently hired employees means a loss of the considerable investment expended to bring them on board – literally money down the drain – it also can indicate weaknesses in the agency’s recruiting, hiring and on-boarding processes, as well as shortcomings in supervision.”

The top five USG agencies:

(Screen grab from Beneath the Surface report)

The bottom five USG agencies:

(Screen grab from Beneath the Surface report)

So there – you see that the State Department has an attrition rate of 14.5% and ties with OMB in the second to the last place. Which is a good thing.  Davidson points out that “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was the best agency at keeping new talent, with a recently hired attrition rate of 10.8 percent. NRC also ranks first in its category on the Best Places list. The State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Air Force and NASA also do relatively well, with rates ranging from 14.5 percent to 15.7 percent.

Which brings us to our correspondent’s note — the 14.5%.  We don’t know what numbers you’re seeing behind the firewall on the Intranet, but we have never heard of State’s attrition number from official pronouncement to be over 5%.  In 2008, over at DipNote, former Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher addressing that controversial AFSA poll results writes that “we have such low attrition rates (4%).” 
In the June 2008 issue of the Foreign Service Journal, then AFSA President John Naland cited some attrition numbers from the State Department’s HR Bureau (see A Career Out of Balance, FSJ, June 2008): 

“Attrition data recently made available to AFSA by State’s Bureau of Human Resources show that the mid-level generalist attrition rate was slightly higher during FY 07 (4.5 percent) than at any time since the last year of the Clinton administration (the last era when budget cuts and staffing gaps sapped employee morale). Entry-level officer attrition from FY 06 to FY 07 averaged 2.4 percent, compared with 1.7 percent from FY 03 to FY 05. Foreign Service specialist attrition rates have generally remained stable. While these modest upticks in generalist attrition rates are not unprecedented and may ultimately turn out to be temporary blips, they could also be harbingers of things to come.”

In a recent issue of the State Magazine (Staying Put, September 2010), the HR Bureau reports on job attrition decline in the agency citing numbers from FY2008 and FY2009:

Foreign Service Generalist at 4.4% in FY2008 and 3.4% in FY 2009

Foreign Service Specialist at 5.6% in FY2008 and 4.0% in FY 2009

Civil Service rates of  8.4% at FY2008 and 6.3% in FY2009

HR also reports that “Overall, generalist attrition was down by 23 percent in fiscal year 2009, compared with 2008. The number of generalist retirements dropped 25 percent, and the number of non-retirements dropped by 18 percent. Attrition among entry-level officers decreased by 11 percent. Mid-level attrition dropped by 27 percent, and Senior Foreign Service attrition, which is almost entirely composed of retirements, dropped  2 percent.”

We note that the entry level officers’ attrition rate is not really clear from that HR article, only that it decreased by 11% in 2009. If you know what was the magic number before the decrease we’d love to know.

What is clear is that out of 747 hires in FY2006, 108 hires left by 2008. This number presumably includes not only the Foreign Service but the entire agency.  

The report, Beneath the Surface: Understanding Attrition at Your Agency and Why It Matters, released last week, is available to download in PDF format here.