Ronald Reagan once aptly observed: “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.”

But government jobs come close, too.

In a recent article headlined “Death more likely than losing federal job,” USA Today reported that federal workers are more likely to die than to be laid off or fired.

In an analysis of federal agencies, not including the uniformed military or the Postal Service, the newspaper found the job security rate for the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers to be 99.43 percent. It approaches 100 percent for those who have been on the job for “more than a few years.”

In contrast, the private sector sees an average turnover of 3 percent a year.

The explanation?

Jerry Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says his agency’s job security rate of 99.85 percent speaks to agency’s excellent workforce:

“We’ve never focused on firing people, and we don’t intend to start now. We’re focused on hiring the right people.”

Maybe that explains the disparity. All the really good workers are hired by the federal government, and the private sector has to get by on the dregs.

But that’s not how San Francisco State University management professor John Sullivan sees it. Dr. Sullivan told USA Today that the federal government’s high job security rates reveal that poor performers aren’t being let go.

“Rather than indicating something positive, rates below 1 percent in the firing and layoff components would indicate a serious management problem,” he said.

Well, certainly it’s not a problem for those in federal agencies who have seen salaries and job benefits steadily rise as the private sector has been forced to become leaner in a tough economy.

Simply put, federal agencies aren’t subject to the employment vagaries experienced in the competitive workforce.

Nor are they subject to the level of scrutiny demanded by the private sector.

And that apparently goes all the way to the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. The almost half-million federal workers who earn $100,000 or more had a retention rate of 99.82 percent in 2010.

Nice work if you can get it.

President Reagan delivered another pungent quote about the fellow who foots the bill:

“The taxpayer: That’s someone who works for the federal government but doesn’t have to take the civil service examination.”