Aside from morale, the incoming administration will face another major workforce challenge: Planning for the "gray wave" of retiring federal employees.

In 2006, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility analyzed age trends within the "green agencies" –– the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA and BLM. They found that between one-third and one-half of all specialist employees — some 30,000 scientists, rangers, inspectors and enforcement attorneys — will become eligible for retirement by 2011. According to the Forest Service, 6,410 employees have retired just since 2004.

That means a lot of institutional memory and expertise will be vanishing toward the end of Barack Obama's first term, says Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director.

Of course, there is hope among many federal employees that life might be different under a new administration, but the Bush years struck a serious blow to federal service in the United States. "Right now, if we were going to do those kind of wartime metaphors," says Ruch, "this is like Warsaw at the end of WWII, where there are hard-bitten survivors, but there are a lot fewer now than there were at the beginning."