In a typical year, about 3 percent of the private-sector workers in the United States are fired for poor performance.
Of course, being fired for any reason is upsetting. But as everyone who has been in the working world for very long knows, it is an unfortunate fact that at least a few people in any workplace cannot or will not carry their weight and have to be let go.
And yet, that painful reality is almost completely ignored by the federal government. USA Today looked at rates of firings and layoffs in the federal workforce and found that federal workers face almost no chance of being dismissed.
In the 2009-2010 budget year, for instance, not a single one of the 1,832 employees in the Federal Communications Commission nor a single one of the 1,189 workers in the Federal Trade Commission was fired or laid off.
Here are some other stunning statistics about extreme federal "job security":
* Only two of the 4,211 workers at the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission were fired or laid off in 2009-2010.
* Only one of the 1,714 employees at the National Labor Relations Board was dismissed.
* Only about a dozen of the nearly 19,000 people who work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration lost their jobs.
* Not one of the federal government's 800 historians was fired.
* And only 15 of the 10,041 workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development were fired or laid off.
Totaling it all up, USA Today found that "The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43 percent [in 2009-2010] and nearly 100 percent for those on the job more than a few years."
Among federal workers located in Washington, job security was almost absolute: 99.74 percent. And job security in the federal workforce was even higher for employees earning $100,000 a year or more: 99.82 percent.
And remember: That happened during the ongoing U.S. economic crisis, when private-sector workers have had to be let go in high numbers.
An expert on employee turnover told USA Today that if only about one-half of 1 percent of federal employees are being laid off or fired, that "would indicate a serious management problem."
Naturally, no one should wish unemployment -- and the personal and family hardships it brings -- on anyone. But it just isn't reasonable to think that federal employees are so uniformly well qualified that practically none of them would be fired in a given year.
John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, said the extremely high retention rate in the federal government suggests that the government is simply hanging onto employees who are unqualified or whose skills are no longer needed.
That is particularly troubling because the wages of our country's bloated, 2.1 million-member federal workforce are paid by taxpayers. Government jobs should be given -- and continued -- strictly on an as-needed basis. Gaining a position in the federal government should not be a guarantee of virtually lifetime job security.
Taxpayers cannot afford that even in good economic times -- much less in the current hard times.