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Everyone understands the value of job security. But an analysis released last week that concluded that many federal employees are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired is eye-opening.

In this time of belt-tightening, high unemployment and skyrocketing debt, it’s as if the federal government is operating in a vacuum.

The 1,800-employee Federal Communications Commission and the 1,200-worker Federal Trade Commission didn’t lay off a single employee last year, according to the USA Today analysis. The Small Business Administration also had no layoffs in its 4,000-member work force. It fired six people, but had far more deaths — 17 — among its employees.

The list goes on reflecting the same trend in numerous federal agencies. Even the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which saw the end of its spaceflight program last week, only laid off or fired 13 of its 18,671 employees last year.

Keeping a federal job, for the majority of government employees, is as likely as the sun coming up in the morning.

That kind of job security is probably well-deserved for a good share of the nation’s employees, but when private businesses, nonprofits and other levels of government are resorting to layoffs and furloughs to balance their budgets, isn’t it realistic to think the federal government may need to do the same thing? President Obama enforced a two-year pay freeze, but that doesn’t provide much ammunition in tackling the country’s staggering debt.

 The federal jobs issue should be examined methodically rather than just taking the ax to every agency across the board. For example, legislation has been introduced that includes measures to freeze federal pay through 2015 and reduce the federal work force an estimated 10 percent by 2014. It would rely on attrition, allowing agencies to hire only one employee for every three who leave federal employment. There’s little consideration there as to whether a specific department can operate effectively with the reduction, and maybe some agencies should be eliminated completely. Conversely, an amendment seeks to protect federal workers’ benefits and stop federal jobs from being privatized, aiming to protect government jobs no matter what.

A thorough examination of how to run federal agencies more efficiently needs to take place in every department, and citizens should help prioritize what they want government to focus on. Just hacking employees to get numbers down isn’t a thoughtful or effective approach.

But it’s clear the federal work force hasn’t shared the pain as others have in the private as well as other public sectors of the work force. And these days, doing things the way they’ve always been done isn’t a very convincing argument for not taking a closer look.

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