Who Works for the Government?
The federal government employs workers in every major occupational group except sales. The government has very little product available for sale, and as a consequence there is minimal need for people with those skills. A high proportion of federal government occupations are in the professional, management, business, and financial fields.
Professional and related occupations account for a third of federal employment opportunities. The largest group works in the life, physical, and social sciences, including biological scientists, conservation scientists and foresters, environmental scientists and geoscientists, and forest and conservation technicians.
The Partnership for Public Service surveyed federal hiring needs for 2005 to 2006 and found that most of the new hires in the federal government would come from the following areas:
Security, enforcement, and compliance — positions include inspectors, investigators, police officers, airport screeners, and prison guards
Medical and public health fields
Engineering and the sciences — positions include microbiologists, botanists, physicists, chemists, and veterinarians
Program management and administration
Accounting, budget, and business — positions include revenue agents and tax examiners needed mainly by the Internal Revenue Service
Many health professionals are employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs in VA hospitals. A large number of federal employees work as engineers, including aerospace, civil, computer hardware, electrical and electronics, environmental, industrial, mechanical, and nuclear engineering. Engineers are found in many departments of the executive branch, but most work in the Department of Defense. Some work in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other agencies.
According to Paul Light, director of the Center for Public Studies at the Brookings Institution, the “true size” of the federal government workforce was 12.1 million in 2002. That figure includes the more than 8 million jobs the government funds by contracts and grants. Jobs funded that way are not listed on the federal budget as government jobs.
The federal government hires many lawyers, judges, and law clerks to write, administer, and enforce many of the country's laws and regulations. Computer specialists, primarily computer software engineers, computer systems analysts, and network and computer systems administrators, are employed throughout the federal government. They keep computer systems running smoothly.
Management, business, and financial workers make up about 27 percent of federal employment and are responsible for overseeing operations. These employees include officials who, at the highest levels, may head federal agencies or programs. Middle managers oversee one aspect of a program. Other occupations in this category are accountants and auditors. They prepare and analyze financial reports, review and record revenues and expenditures, and investigate operations for fraud and inefficiency.
Administrative and Service Occupations
Administrative support workers in the federal government include information and record clerks, general office clerks, as well as secretaries and administrative assistants.
In the service field, most opportunity lies in the protective services. Seven out of ten federal workers in service occupations are protective service workers, such as correctional officers and jailers, detectives and criminal investigators, and police officers. These workers protect the public from crime and oversee federal prisons.
By law, employees of the federal government are not allowed to go on strike. No-strike clauses are written into employment contracts. In 1955, Congress made strikes by federal employees punishable by stiff fines or jail time. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this action in 1971, in the case of United Federation of Postal Clerks v. Blount.
Federally employed workers in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations include aircraft mechanics and service technicians, as well as the electrical equipment mechanics who inspect and repair electronic equipment. The federal government employs a small number of workers in transportation, construction, farming, fishing, and forestry.
A Diverse Work Force
The federal government strives to have a work force as diverse as the civilian labor force. It serves as a model for all employers by protecting current and potential employees from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. The federal government also makes an effort to recruit and accommodate persons with disabilities.
The headquarters of most federal departments and agencies are in the Washington, D.C., area, but only one out of six federal employees works in the nation's capital. Federal employees work throughout the United States, and another 93,000 are assigned overseas in embassies or defense installations.