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Federal hiring down, with most jobs going to defense

WASHINGTON — With fiscal pressures continuing to force spending cuts, government agencies made fewer than 90,000 new hires last year, the smallest number in six years and a 37 percent drop since 2009, federal data show.

The government hired 89,689 new employees in 2012, many of whom eventually will move into leadership positions at their agencies. They include the largest number of veterans in recent years (44.7 percent), and three out of four are filling jobs at defense and security-related agencies.

These are some characteristics of the Class of 2012, which was profiled by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service to try to measure what corners of the government are seeking new talent even in a period of contraction.


''Most people have this perception of the workforce as having grown topsy-turvy,'' said Max Stier, the partnership's president and chief executive. ''It hasn't. Every hire is increasingly important.''

The partnership analyzed data from the Office of Personnel Management to draw a geographic and demographic picture of the new employees. (The nonprofit group has a content-sharing arrangement with The Washington Post.)

The drop in hiring comes as agencies face a wave of retirements by baby boomers, who are calling it quits amid budget cuts, furloughs, and poor morale caused by a negative public view of federal service.

Not only retirement-age workers are leaving, but also younger employees who tend to move in and out of government. A total of 115,341 people left the federal rolls in 2012, up from 83,317 departures in 2009, OPM data show. About 25,600 more people left than were replaced, challenging agencies to think harder about who they hire and make hard decisions about which services and functions to pull back.

Most agencies have focused on replacing as many departing employees as they can, rather than on creating new positions. The largest occupational group of new hires last year — about 19,500 people or 21.7 percent — were doctors, nurses, and other hospital and public health employees.


They include 1,900 mental health workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs — 1,600 nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers and 300 support staff.

These were new positions Congress authorized to help the agency reduce long waits many veterans face for mental health care, among them an influx of service members back from Iraq and Afghanistan who have post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. The delays in treatment alarmed many lawmakers, since these service members can be at risk for suicide.

Smaller agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hired new medical professionals last year.

Sarah Meyer, a 31-year-old pediatrician and medical epidemiologist, was hired after completing a two-year training program researching global polio and meningitis.

A native of Peoria, Ill., Meyer had practiced as a pediatrician but realized she wanted to do something broader. In Atlanta, where the CDC is based, her research focuses on meningitis and pertussis.

After the veterans agency, the Army, Navy, and Air Force respectively did the most hiring last year. In the Air Force, with 8.4 percent of the hires, the vast majority replaced departing or retiring employees and were not brought in to fill new positions.

About a third of the new hires are ages 25 to 34; 2.2 percent of new hires are 60 to 64.