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Human Capital, Career Dynamics, and Organizational Performance in the U.S. Federal Government

Human Capital, Career Dynamics, and Organizational Performance in the U.S. Federal Government

This project examines federal government agencies’ ability to recruit high quality individual talent, to develop their employees’ expertise within those agencies, and to retain the best and brightest in government service. This is an important and complicated challenge; public agencies must cope with episodic turnover of political appointees, limited ability to adjust worker compensation in response to outside market pressures, difficulty in performance measurement due to the nature of governmental tasks, and constraints on frictionless alterations to the government workforce because of employment terms for civil servants.  

At the heart of this joint project between PIs and researchers at Duke, Vanderbilt, and Princeton Universities is unprecedented and potentially transformative new data on the careers of federal employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released to us data on the careers of almost every federal employee for the last 24 years – about 2 million workers annually in about 120 agencies for 24 years, or about 48 million person-year observations. For each employee the team has annual data on a host of characteristics such as age, sex, race, agency, education level, salary, occupation, performance awards, and other background characteristics. This dataset is by far the most comprehensive and detailed data on careers in both a time-series and cross-sectional sense in either the public or private sector. Micro-data studies to date in the private sector have focused on hundreds or thousands of individuals, often in one firm. This data is unique in its scope and length, encompassing millions of observations across a wide variety of organizations.

Potential research projects span the fields of political science, economics, public administration, bureaucratic politics, organizational sociology, and organizational behavior.  Some of the current research projects are focusing on the following questions:  What are the effects of agency reorganizations on personnel (e.g., wages, departures, promotions)? How do recessions and elections influence the federal personnel system? Is there a gender or racial wage gap in the federal government?  How does government unionization affect wages?  Why have federal government wages risen so much faster than private sector wages?  What is the network structure of the government and how does it evolve?  

Faculty Team Members:

John de Figueiredo, Duke University, School of Law and Fuqua School of Business

Chuck Cameron, Princeton University, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

David Lewis, Vanderbilt University, Department of Political Science

Patrick Warren, Clemson University, John E. Walker Department of Economics

Graduate Student Team Members:

•Congshan Zhang, Duke University, Department of Economics


Alexander Bolton, Emory University, Department of Political Science, Assistant Professor

John Brooks, Auburn University at Montgomery, Department of Political Science & Public Administration, Assistant Professor

Josh Bruce, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Business Administration, Assistant Professor

Maria Droganova, Curry College, Department of Business Management, Assistant Professor


•Josh Bruce at


Durham, NC 27708 | 919.681.6019


Gross Hall, 2nd Floor
140 Science Drive
Durham, NC 27708


Erwin Mill Building
2024 W. Main St.
Durham, NC 27705

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