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Be honest now: Is the federal workforce over-staffed?

Guest entry by Federal Computer Week editor John Monroe.

When Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced a bill in January that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, we received numerous comments from already-over-burdened readers who feared they would be handed even more work. But some of out readers offered alternative perspectives.

The basic issue, as they see it, is that the staffing at many agencies is out of synch with the work actually being done. They agreed with Chris Edwards, editor of the CATO Institute’s website downsizinggovernment.org, who described such cuts as “the low-hanging fruit” at a time when budget cuts are needed.

Some readers had particular low-hanging fruit in mind.

“I say they ask each federal employee to take a look around them and identify the dead wood,” wrote an anonymous reader. “There is a GS-15 step 10 in my group that plays games on his computer all day and steals $155,500 from the taxpayers, annually.”

But how do we reconcile such comments with others from readers who say they don’t have enough hours in the day to get their jobs done? One possibility, suggested by several readers, is that the problem is not in the rank-and-file of the workforce, but in management.

One reader put it this way: “Picture one employee working under several managers whose positions are director, deputy director, assistant deputy director, manager, assistant manager, supervisor, assistant supervisor, and so on down the chain of command. These management positions earn up to $200,000 and up.”

“When a private sector company re-organizes, the first thing they do is cut the middle management,” another reader added.

But others are not convinced.

“Haven't we been around this block a few times over the past 20 years?” a reader asked. “And each and every time, a story or event will take place that has Congress screaming at an understaffed, underfunded agency to ‘fix my constituent's problems!!!’ Of course, the ones screaming at us to fix said problems are usually the same folks that voted to cut our funding and staffing levels.”

What do you think? Putting aside the current political bickering, does the federal workforce need to be downsized or realigned? Short of cross-the-board cuts, are there particular areas in the workforce that could use some trimming? In particular, what is the state of the IT workforce?

Post your comments here. This summer we will publish a selection of the most thoughtful responses in a print edition of FCW.

Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 10, 2016 Markuf California

It is a widely known fact that those who do not earn the funds they require to then spend are incredibly lazy, slow, great at justifying their existence and produce very little if anything toward the good. Our government employees produce the least of any labor force in america, they do the most useless but convince themselves otherwise. Our government workers get paid the most for doing the least. You would think that because we spend more on our military than anyone else wé would proportionately have more ammo, more uniforms, etc. NO. it's the same over staffing found in all other branches of our government. I'd even venture to say their are more administrative personal than their are soldiers.

Sat, Oct 1, 2011

Workforce centers see no clients. Clients come in and are directed to the computer room where they do their own job search, resumes, or filing for unemployment. STAFF DOES NOTHING! But they also say that they are not easy to get rid off...And then they have several - 4-5 Work Experience workers there also! Usually from the 55 and older programs. ENOUGH ALready!

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 James Robertson florida

I have been googleing for 2 days on the subject of "is our varying gov'ts overstaffed in workers". By about 8 to 1, everything written on the subject says YES! From county, state, and federal levels. Gov't has grown almost 20 fold in most states and federally. Big government federalism seems to have blossumed over the years as varying bureacracys add employees to manage some redistribution of something the public sector doesn't need, say oversight on what to feed their cattle or pets, how many shots they must have, just garbage, and are paid big bucks for their expertise, even though no college is accredited with permission from the state to teach such drivel or offer a degree. The hiring is done to lower unemployment issues in the economy and helps them look good for a while, until the people catch them, with hands out and discover it benefits someone who mostly bought their position in congress, senate, or president. Its really laughable to public employees while the payer (private sector) curses then cries.

Wed, Apr 27, 2011 Dave K

The entire question is off target! Various agencies are overmanned or undermanned based on what Congress wanted to do... and what additional tasks have been levied over the years. The real question is this: Is this Agency a legitimate Federal function, and is it authorized by the Constitution? If the answer is "no," there's an easy cut, not of a percentage of personnel, but of an entire agency.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 Virginia

The answer is not a simple yes or no - it is a depends and I agree with others that an "across the board" employee reduction never works. There are some agencies and departments within agencies that are grossly overstaffed and others that are grossly understaffed but when you look at the root cause of this lopsided picture you can see that this has more to do with matching the right skills to the tasks at hand, lack of leadership, lack of clear and concise goals and objectives as well as a plan to accomplish the required activities. Another reasons for this is constantly changing priorities as each administration changes and the Federal Government's inability to be "agile" in response to these changes. It is next to impossible to remove anyone from their position even for gross negligence and it is equally difficult to hire qualified candidates for open positions (the process is onerous and time consuming for the hiring managers and the candidates). This is not something to be fixed with a "one size fits all". It is going to take a "grass roots" effort within each of the Agencies to truly fix this problem. But there is a question of "why would anyone be motivated to fix this problem?"

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