WASHINGTON — Despite a surge in patriotism immediately after Sept. 11, more than 75% of college juniors and seniors say they would not consider a career with Uncle Sam, according to a national poll released Tuesday.
"The students view the federal government as an old-fashioned, bureaucratic and politicized work atmosphere that puts policies and procedures ahead of people," said Mark J. Penn, the pollster who directed a study of 1,000 students across the country.
Idealism continues to hold sway, with teaching (87%) and work with nonprofit agencies (84%) viewed most favorably by students as careers. But only 22% of those polled said they were likely to become teachers, and only 14% said they would join the nonprofit sector when they graduate.
Perhaps reflecting the current concerns over corporate wrongdoing, investment banking (64%) was near the bottom in terms of favorable student perception, just above the law (60%).
Favorable opinion of careers in the federal government (75%) and the military (65%) was somewhat higher. Still, just 23% said they would pursue government service, and only 4% said they would opt for the military.
The results suggest the next generation of soldiers, spies and staffers may be hard to come by, in part because of the federal government's cumbersome and lengthy hiring process.
The 1.8-million-member civil service faces an employment crunch. In the next five years, 45% of the federal government's senior executives and 30% of staffers will retire, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group focused on recruiting and retaining top-quality civil servants.
But to get these workers, the government must limber up its hiring process, federal recruiters say. As the human resources director for the Defense Logistics Agency, part of the Department of Defense, Jeff Neal has seen job applications that run as long as 500 pages. "We're going to people we want to work for the government and telling them, 'Write a novel,' " said Neal. "They don't want to do that."
Neal has watched the federal job classification system expand over 20 years into a 2,000-item roster. The government takes an average of 81 days to make a hiring decision, but 69% of those polled said they were unwilling to wait more than four weeks for a job offer. Almost two-thirds of respondents said it was "difficult" to locate and apply for jobs with the federal government.
Neal and Linda Bilmes, a former assistant Commerce secretary, plan to use the poll results to write a book calling on the government to overhaul its hiring practices. The study was conducted for Neal and Bilmes by the Washington polling firm of Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Young adults have continuously expressed an interest in serving their country, evidenced by the large numbers of students volunteering while they are in college, said Paul C. Light, executive director at the Brookings Institution Center for Public Service in Washington. The problem is the hiring practices of the federal government.
"We see talented young Americans who get government jobs are the first to leave, because the jobs are so dreary, the opportunities for advancement so poor and the number of angry, embittered and poor performers in their midst so high," Light said. "So what young people now are saying isn't 'Show us the money,' but 'Show us the work.' "
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Careers that college students are most likely to pursue, according to a nationwide poll of 1,000 juniors and seniors:
Public service/government -- 23%
Education -- 22%
Business/financial -- 22%
Advertising/marketing/PR -- 18%
Computers/info technology -- 17%
Entertainment/media/arts -- 16%
Administrative -- 14%
Nonprofit organizations -- 14%
Self-employment -- 11%
Consulting -- 11%
Source: ``Attitudes Toward Working for the Private and Public Sector'' poll conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, results released July 16