- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

BOULDER CITY, Nev. (AP) - Hoover Dam has been showing its age lately, and the problem can’t be fixed with fresh concrete or new equipment.

Roughly two-fifths of the workforce at the federal facility will be eligible to retire within five years, leaving the Bureau of Reclamation scrambling to recruit and train skilled workers while keeping one of the nation’s most important water and power facilities operational.

“It’s certainly something we’re concerned about,” said Terry Fulp, who heads up the bureau’s Lower Colorado River region. “We are an aging workforce. There’s no doubt about it.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell highlighted the problem in a December speech to Colorado River water users meeting in Las Vegas.


Jewell said she noticed something unusual during a tour of Hoover Dam a few months earlier: The control center for Hoover, Parker and Davis dams was being operated by two men, the youngest of whom was her age.

“I’d like to say that was a good thing, but it really isn’t very good,” the 58-year-old Cabinet secretary told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/1hTxGGx). “The older one had retired and was brought back as what we call a returning annuitant. Lives in Alabama. Flies back once a week to take his turn running Hoover Dam.

“That’s not so good. We need to make sure that we are back-filling.”

Fulp said the problem is “Reclamation-wide,” and bureau officials saw it coming as far back as 2000. That’s when they launched a four-year apprentice program at Hoover Dam and elsewhere to head off personnel shortages in key jobs such as power plant operator, power system electrician and hydroelectric engineer.

Fulp said four people graduated from the program last year and six more are enrolled this year, but it isn’t enough.

“We probably need to double that,” he said.

A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

As of December, 140 of roughly 800 employees were eligible to retire from their jobs in the bureau’s Lower Colorado Region, which runs the length of the river from downstream of Lake Powell to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hoover Dam’s share of that number was 40 retirement-eligible workers out of a total workforce of about 250, Fulp said.

But the real problem isn’t retirement; it’s retention.

Fulp said workers used to stay with the same employer for their entire careers, but those days appear to be over. Changes to the retirement system have made it easier for employees to jump from job to job, and private-sector competition makes it difficult for the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies to keep people.

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