Federal employees have been given until November 22 to be fully vaccinated. Information on how the mandate would be implemented was slow in coming and is still not very clear to most employees or to the HR personnel tasked with carrying out the implementation. Employees in some agencies were asked to complete a vaccine attestation and request an accommodation, if applicable, only after the agencies had announced the first deadline (October 11) for the first jab of the Moderna two-dose vaccine (October 18 is the deadline for the first jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) necessary to meet the mid-November deadline. Reports aren’t clear on whether the federal government is really accommodating or taking seriously requests for religious accommodation, so it’s anyone’s guess how the next month will play out for federal employees who want medical freedom of choice. Whether intended or not, the unknowns of the mandate implementation have caused much stress and confusion among employees and may have led many hesitant hold-outs to get the jab when they otherwise would not have, before full guidance had been issued and before any exemptions had been reviewed or denied.
There are, however, several factors for federal employees to consider when contemplating whether to give in to the vaccine mandates now or to remain unvaccinated. While it may seem that a large percentage of federal employees have attested to being fully vaccinated, it is very important to consider that, statistically speaking, those most likely to be vaccinated are in the older age brackets — those brackets where the virus thrives best and presents the greatest danger to health and life. Younger workers are much safer than older workers, so it stands to reason that the highest percentage of federal employees receiving the vaccine would be those in the older age groups. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the average age for non-seasonal full-time permanent employees is 47.5 years and the minimum retirement age in federal service is 57 years. This means that, on average, about half of the nation’s federal employees could be a little less than ten years out from retirement. There is no breakdown on the number of employees over age 57 who could retire for any number of reasons, but there have been speculations for years about a mass exodus of retirement-age federal employees.
While inflation could provide some incentive for those retirement-age employees to stick around, at a certain age the benefit of working an additional year is less than the monetary value of the increase in one’s monthly retirement amount. The workers in this cohort would, statistically speaking, be the most vaccinated of all federal employees, which also means that the younger a federal employee is, the less vaccinated he or she would tend to be. Older employees, having lived longer, also would tend to have a more conservative view and understanding of the role of the federal government in the affairs of its citizens (or, conversely stated, held their world views steady while America veered Left), meaning that mandates could hasten their imminent retirement despite their own vaccination status. We could assume then that most of the vaccine-hesitant in the federal government are younger employees, most likely with veteran status (30.8% of all federal employees in 2014), who are healthier and who may have higher educational attainment due to increases in hiring requirements over the last few decades. These employees, being younger and healthier, would be assumed to care more about the long-term effects on their health and family planning of emergency use vaccines with no long-term testing, and we could also assume that if they are not vaccinated by now (mid-October), they really are sincere in their holdout and, thus, not the most persuadable or prone to give in to intimidation.
Federal hiring has notoriously been a bureaucratic and slow process, meaning that many individuals choose not to pursue federal employment, despite its relative safety. It is thus unlikely that the federal government would fire any sizeable percentage of its workforce because the individuals fired would, on average, be the younger more educated cohort, leaving the federal government at the mercy of an even larger percentage of older federal employees could leave at any time, and who probably would see such an action as a betrayal of their fellow workers and a cue that employment in the federal government has become a partisan affair. The time might just be right, under those circumstances, for that large percentage of older, on-the-fence retirement-age workers to clock out for the final time, dramatically increasing the number of workers that could leave federal service in the final days of 2021.
Any significant loss of employees who possess a large amount of institutional and technical knowledge would severely impact the ability of agencies under the executive office to fulfill their missions, ceterus paribus. But, not all are equal under a Democratic administration; under such an administration, the requirements placed upon executive agencies are increased with larger and larger budgets and greater scope of missions, such as incorporating the cause of environmental justice and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into all aspects of the way that they do business, as well as monitoring all those $600 banking transactions to prevent “billionaires” from getting one over on the IRS, and enforcing OSHA mandates on all businesses with 100 or more employees. Agencies can’t really accomplish their missions with skeleton crews, with new untrained employees, or with the help of the National Guard, since the National Guard will, theoretically, be staffing all the hospitals in Blue states and helping secure the border and/or liberal large cities in Red states; not to mention that there may not be enough National Guard members who are capable of performing many of the highly skilled jobs that are required by federal agencies, such as the positions of Contracting Officer, Nuclear Scientist, and Engineer.
So, it may be that following through on the mandate and terminating a large group of unvaccinated federal employees would result in a severe compromise of agency missions and the ability of them to do their jobs and spend the record dollars that Democrats want to send their way. If the federal government relents and claims that new cases are falling and they’ve vaccinated a high enough number, it may save the administration’s credibility and be a win for those employees who didn’t compromise in the face of pressure; but if the federal government doesn’t relent, at least we can sleep well knowing that it’ll have shot itself in the foot and made its own work of destroying America just a little harder by not being staffed up well enough to do as much damage before the 2022 mid-terms. In either case, all federal employees should be encouraged to continue to hold out and not give in on their convictions because they might just have a bit more numerical strength on their side than they think they do.