Legislation would freeze agencies' hiring

Several Obama administration officials told a Senate subcommittee about the need for more government workers, as many agencies rely too much on contractors

As the Obama administration seeks to boost the federal workforce to strike a balance between the number of government and private-sector employees, a group of House Republicans has proposed freezing the agencies’ ability to hire.

The Federal Workforce Reduction Act (H.R. 5348), introduced May 19 by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), would stop agencies from hiring during any year the Office of Management and Budget projects a budget deficit for the federal government. The bill would force the president to grant permission for an agency to hire an employee. And, if an agency did get consent, it would have to find employees who already were in the Federal Workforce Hiring Pool.

The new pool of potential employees could only be filled as another federal employee leaves a position. But as a federal employee leaves, the size of the pool would only grow by half an employee, according to bill. In other words, two federal employees would have to leave positions vacant in order to add someone to the pool of potential workers.

In addition, the bill would require the government to regularly disclose to the public and Congress all new hires, broken down by agencies.

Related story:

Closer management can rein in agency contractor ranks, OFPP chief says

Lummis said her intent is to reduce the government's size by attrition and save money.

The bill “aggressively halts the sprawl of government, forces agency heads to make government more efficient, and helps us get back to a people-centered, not government-centered America,” Lummis said in a statement. Thirteen other Republicans co-sponsored the bill.

Nevertheless, the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs would be exempt from the hiring freeze, according to provisions in the bill.

The same day, a Senate subcommittee on the federal workforce heard from several Obama administration officials about the need for more government workers, because many agencies rely too much on contractors for their day-to-day operations.

Government employees are the key to keeping control of an agency's operations, said Daniel Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He also said insourcing is another means of breaking the dependence on the private sector.

“In other words, rebalancing [the ratio of contractor to federal employee] does not require an agency to insource, that is, to convert work from contract to in-house performance, provided the agency can hire, retrain or reassign sufficient federal employees with the requisite skills at managing contractors to maintain control of their activities,” Gordon said.

Gordon and other offiicials fear that contractors are handling work that only federal employees should do, called inherently governmental functions. If contractors do those jobs, they could influence important government decisions about policy, for instance, Gordon said. He has also focused policies surrounding jobs that are “closely associated with inherently governmental functions” and “critical functions.” Both of them are so closely related to the government employee-only jobs that federal workers, in fact, should still be doing them.

Specifically, members of Congress and officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations have had concerns about the size of the acquisition workforce compared to the massive growth in federal spending since 2001.

“I would remind those present today that our acquisition workforce grew only 11 percent while contract spending increased almost 60 percent between fiscal year 2002 and 2008,” said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said at the subcommittee hearing.

“Increased responsibilities for the acquisition workforce must be accompanied by increased funding and support for this critical group of federal employees,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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