Projecting the Structure of the Air Force Civilian Workforce in Light of Concerns about a Possible Retirement Wave

by Steven Trochlil

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Concerns about a retirement wave among the federal civilian workforce are common. Reasons for large-scale retirements among senior civilians include the end of the working careers of the baby boomer generation, the 2013 federal government shutdown, and sequestration. A retirement wave could lead to a serious drain of human capital and a loss of expertise and senior management capability. This issue is even more relevant in occupations that are deemed mission critical to the Department of Defense (DoD). A further issue is the ability of the federal workforce to attract workers to replace those that retire.

Using the RAND Inventory Model (RIM), a stock-and-flow inventory model for federal civilians, this dissertation finds that although there is not likely to be a force-wide shortage of Air Force civilians over the next ten years, there is the possibility of human capital gaps in some mission critical occupations (MCO). Specifically, of the seven selected MCO's, two will likely face gaps among workers with between ten and six years until retirement eligibility, two among workers with ten or fewer years until retirement eligibility, and two among workers within five years of becoming or having become retirement eligible.

Based on these findings, the dissertation recommends that the contracting, computer and electronics engineering, IT and HR occupations hire more experienced workers and create advanced development programs to identify and train younger workers to take on the responsibilities of more experienced roles. The dissertation estimates the number of additional workers that will be needed and the cost of these options. These estimates show that retention bonuses are far more expensive than the other two options. These options will require the combined efforts of the career field managers, the Department of the Air Force and the DoD for successful implementation. To increase hiring of workers, they will likely need to increase the quality of life for employees and make the hiring process easier. Advanced development programs will involve devoting more resources to rigorous training programs. Following these recommendations will leave the Air Force equipped to fill any gaps in its human capital.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Review of Federal Workforce Issues

  • Chapter Three

    Historical Analysis

  • Chapter Four

    Projections

  • Chapter Five

    Evaluations of Policy Options

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Policy Responses

  • Appendix A

    Grade Categories

  • Appendix B

    MCO's

  • Appendix C

    Historical Data

This document was submitted as a dissertation in August 2016 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Bart E. Bennett (Chair), Raymond E. Conley, and Nelson Lim.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. PRGS dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a PRGS faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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