What’s Driving the Exodus of Top Technical Talent in the Federal Space?

Federal positions used to be seen as a boon to most professionals, including those working in the IT space. The jobs were coveted for their stability and strong benefits package, making them especially attractive as long-term career options. However, over recent years, the appeal is beginning to falter, leaving some to abandon their government positions for opportunities in the private sector.

The Mission Behind Government Work

Many professionals, Millennials in particular, initially connect with the concept behind government service. They see it as a method for giving back to their community or even serving the greater good, which can be a highly attractive proposition.

However, the reality doesn’t always reflect these goals. Some workers become frustrated by the amount of red tape that is involved in government work as well as the sometimes slower than average speed for a project’s completion. Additionally, changes in laws or regulations can stymie certain efforts, if not end them entirely.

If the concept of the grander mission was what originally attracted the worker to the role, then they can easily become disenchanted, making private sector positions more attractive. This is especially true when the IT professional seeks out companies that release products that can also help the public and do so at faster rates.

Longevity vs. Merit-Based Advancement

In the vast majority of cases, the speed at which one’s career progresses in the federal government is primarily based on time served and not necessarily the quality of the person’s work. Step increases, the incremental pay bumps, are awarded mainly (if not entirely) based on longevity, and many promotional opportunities have specific time-based experience requirements that include mandatory minimums.

For employees that excel in their positions and regularly beat expectations, the lack of merit-based advancement can be incredibly frustrating. This makes private sector work, where merit may play a larger role in promotions and salary increases, more attractive over the long-term.

Compensation and Benefits

Typically, the federal government is not known for offering particularly competitive pay, especially with longevity-based raises being the standard, though that used to be offset by the strong benefits package. Now, as unemployment among tech professionals remains shockingly low, more companies are offering higher wages as well as comprehensive benefits packages and numerous perks as a means of attracting and retaining top talent. This makes it harder to justify taking (or keeping) a federal job based on the benefits package, as it is no longer a differentiator in the sector as a whole.

Background Checks and Security Clearances

Compared to the private sector, the background checks and security clearances required for federal IT workers can be quite cumbersome. There is a significant amount of paperwork, fingerprint checks are common, and the total processing time required is lengthy. Additionally, many federal positions are incredibly stringent regarding what can be in an employee’s background, so small legal missteps can make someone ineligible. For certain roles, even issues in a family member’s history can affect one’s ability to obtain or maintain a required security clearance.

In today’s environment, where private sector positions are relatively plentiful and compensation is strong, it’s no surprise that many are turning away from federal employment in favor of other opportunities. If you are interested in finding a new tech position, the professionals at The Squires Group can connect you with top employers throughout the area. Contact us today to learn more.


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