- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

What do Walt Disney the entertainment giant, Google the search engine giant, and the U.S. State Department, one of Uncle Sam’s smallest operations, have in common?

Well, those are the top three places, in that order, that about-to-graduate college students say they would like to work.

Why did the Department of State rank just ahead of the CIA and the FBI? Two words, said a veteran (and very diplomatic) State Department official: Condoleezza Rice.

Miss Rice has raised the profile of the department nationwide but especially among young women who represent the majority of people graduating from college these days.

This should be, could be, great news for hard-pressed government workers who hope to snap up some of the best and brightest from the class of 2006. Most federal agencies think they are on the brink of a tidal wave of retirements when the long-awaited, long-feared “brain drain” hits.

In some federal agencies, 40 percent of employees are or soon will be eligible to retire. In a few agencies, an even larger percentage of the top managers are expected to pull the plug sooner rather than later.

The graduate’s job rankings come from the annual survey of 36,000 college seniors conducted by the Philadelphia-based Universum Communications.

Interestingly, the National Security Agency was fourth on the list of most-desirable federal agencies. Overall, it ranked 26th in the hot companies list. That put it just behind IBM, Starbucks, Nike and Pfizer, but ahead of Amazon.com, Bank of America and Time Warner.

Again, how come the CIA, FBI and the NSA?

“I would say it is favorable, for the most part, TV shows depicting … often not very accurately, the work of those three agencies. It’s part of the ‘I want to serve’ attitude that surfaced after the 9/11 attacks,” the official said.

But in recent years, federal agencies overall have had a fairly dismal record in getting the cream of the college crop. So does this survey represent merely wishful thinking or will it translate into real numbers?

Federal agencies could probably make themselves much more attractive if they would step up their programs to help students repay their student loans. Many college graduates, especially those with higher degrees from choice (as in very expensive) universities, come out into the work world with staggering student loan debt.

Government agencies have the authority — but often lack the will or the cash — to help them repay loans.

Another thing that discourages young, first-time job hunters is the time it takes to get a “you’re hired” nod from the government. Many people understand that with tough new security clearance requirements getting a federal job isn’t quick and easy.

But what many people don’t understand, when they run up against federal human resources office, is the total lack of feedback. It can take weeks, even months to get an acknowledgement that an application has been received. Much less that it is being reviewed. Many applicants say they don’t know whether they are even in the door, much less whether they are in the running.

These are problems that a little more money — diverted to student loan programs instead of sometimes hokey-but-expensive ad campaigns — might solve.

If they step up loan-repayment plans, they must remember — if they want to keep good people — to take care of employees who are on board but who, if overlooked, will generate an even bigger brain drain.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.


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