Bureaucratus should reconsider comments about downsizing

I would like to comment about some points that Bureaucratus made in his July 22 column about federal downsizing.

~~A net of about 225 000 positions have been eliminated by the Clinton administration's downsizing efforts. It is true that about two-thirds of them have been at the Defense Department in large part because DOD is the largest federal agency. The department has downsized by about 16 percent. A number of non-DOD agencies have had similar or greater reductions including the departments of Housing and Urban Development (13.7 percent) and Labor (13 percent) as well as the General Services Administration (23.6 percent) NASA (15.2 percent) and the Office of Personnel Management (38.5 percent). The cutbacks at DOD while significant are not out of line with those at other agencies.

~~Bureaucratus says he is not sure how the General Accounting Office reached the conclusion that buyouts enable agencies to downsize without disproportionate cutbacks among women and minorities. The reason is simple: Buyouts tend to go to older more senior workers largely white males where-as reductions in force affect mostly younger workers who are more likely to be women or minorities. Bureaucratus himself makes this point elsewhere when he notes that "RIF rules tend to favor senior employees at the expense of junior employees."

~~The fact that women and minorities have not been unduly harmed by the buyouts is supported by statistics on federal work force. In 1984 women made up 39.8 percent of the work force in 1995 they were 42.9 percent of it. Similarly in 1984 minorities made up 25.1 percent of the work force last year they were 28.5 percent.

~~In his column Bureaucratus writes: "We don't know how agencies have structured their buyouts. Did they target only certain slots or were all employees eligible?"

~ ~In fact the National Performance Review urged that downsizing target unneeded layers of supervisors and this has been done. The number of supervisory and management control personnel has been cut by more than 45 000.

~~Bureaucratus is wrong when he suggests that attrition alone could meet downsizing goals. Attrition reduces the number of employees but attrition among employees with critically needed skills disrupts productivity and impairs service delivery.

~~To meet downsizing goals agencies must target reductions to positions that are less critical. RIFs are the traditional way to target reduction but buyouts - similarly targeted - are a better way. Buyouts are less expensive and less disruptive.

~~I hope that Bureaucratus will look more closely at the facts and correct his statements which misrepresented a successful downsizing program.~~Mary Lou Lindholm~Assistant Director for Employment~Office of Personnel Management

~~Bureaucratus responds: I do not support a buyout policy that favors women and minority workers at the expense of senior employees who have the most experience. That doesn't make sense. We should encourage those workers we need least to leave government through the use of buyouts.

~~According to GAO attrition seems to be doing the job of shrinking the government work force raising the question of whether we need buyouts at all. In any event there is no evidence to support the contention that federal downsizing policy has produced the current mix of women and minority workers. OPM compares two years 1984 and 1995. Since buyouts are relatively recent in origin the comparison is meaningless.

~~OPM claims the number of management-control and supervisory personnel has been reduced. In my column I point out that reducing management-control personnel is a bad thing and runs counter to the goals of the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act.

~~OPM seems to delight in weakening management controls. That is a very shortsighted view.~OPM further claims that attrition can result in the loss of critical skills.

~~I would think that buyouts which as OPM concedes tend to attract senior employees would produce a great loss of critical skills.

~~Attrition occurs when employees seek greener pastures. If OPM is concerned about losing critical employees it should make it more attractive for feds to continue working for Uncle Sam.

~~OPM says agencies should target their buyouts. I agree. So does GAO. So does the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the Civil Service.

~~The evidence seems to be that agencies have not targeted their buyouts. In fact they've encouraged individuals who could retire (and therefore have lots of useful experience) to wait for a buyout and then retire. What's the advantage of this approach? How do agencies or taxpayers benefit?

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