As a government and politics major at the University of Maryland, Joe Chapman knew he might end up working for the federal government.
"It was not always at the top of my list for a career, but it was among the places that I knew I was going to shoot for," the Bowie man said.
Chapman said plenty of students at the university, on the edge of the nation's capital and a Metro ride away from many of its federal agencies, felt the same way.
But now, as a 26-year-old program analyst for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Chapman said he is "one of a very few 20-somethings" in his office.
"We're top-heavy, agewise," Chapman said.
His experience is not uncommon, according to many who study or work in federal recruitment.
"The good news is that there is a talent market of young folks coming out of universities who are interested in government," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service.
The bad news, Stier said, is that the millennials aren't landing jobs.
Stier's organization, which promotes careers in federal government, published a report this month titled "College Students are Attracted to Federal Service, but Agencies Need to Capitalize on Their Interest."
The partnership found that millennials are underrepresented in the federal workforce and laid the blame in part on recruitment failings.
The partnership uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show that employees younger than 30 represent 23.2 percent of the total U.S. workforce but only 8.5 percent of the federal workforce.
It also cites a 2013 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which found that the percentage of college students planning to enter a local, state or federal government job declined for the fifth consecutive year, from 10.2 percent in 2009 to 5.4 percent in 2013. Just 2 percent of students planned to enter the federal workforce in 2013, the association found.
"Federal agencies need to address the lack of generational diversity in their workforce as a serious problem," the partnership concluded.
The federal government and many of its agencies have increased their outreach to young people.
The Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, after years of limited hiring, is using the government's Pathways Internship and Pathways Recent Graduate programs this year for the first time to fill positions across the agency, a spokeswoman said.
John Flato, a vice president at the employer branding firm Universum who advises companies on recruiting college students, said the hiring of young recruits varies by agency, but the federal government has generally done a poor job keeping up with the private sector.
He said federal agencies don't focus on the skills they need and the universities that specialize in them, allow red tape to slow their hiring process, don't brand themselves effectively, and place too much emphasis on experience and not enough on talent and potential.
While the federal government "has great appeal," Flato said, "it just hasn't been able to get its act together as quickly as the private sector."
A key failing, he said, is that federal agencies don't value their interns enough.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers, in its survey, found that federal agencies offer jobs to 19.5 percent of their interns. In the private sector, it's 27.3 percent.